There are certain common threads discernible in the history of mankind and unfortunately many of them seem to lie in the area of human fallibility. Such seemingly ingrained traits such as lust for power, cruelty, brutality and lack of social cognizance and constraint are prevalent throughout the recorded annals of the human race and often play a prominent part in literature and other forms of entertainment such as television, movies and theater – the Game of Thrones phenomena, for instance.
These negative aspects of humanity surface time and again, imposing hardship and misery upon mankind in general, not infrequently donning the trappings of some variation of moral rectitude personified through a “savior” who will provide the leadership required to improve the life of the masses.
History is dotted with the names of conquerors who shaped empires: Alexander, Julius Caesar, Napoleon, the Tudors of England, Joseph Stalin, Mao Tse Tung.
But no matter how charismatic the individual, no matter how honorable (or evil) the cause, eventually the empire that they played such a strong part in founding fell under the sway of the politicians, the bureaucrats and the merchants. And so the decline would begin.
As in almost all cases, a collapse is not immediate, but the result of a slow, insidious, pervasive rot.
There can be many good things developed from beginnings initiated by a conqueror. Cultures that found their roots in the ancient city-states of Rome and Greece, the Chinese dynasties, the warring tribes of Europe and the British Empire have continued into today, providing the basis for current language, customs and laws. But worldwide, once a society trades away its freedoms, turning its welfare and future over to a burgeoning permanent political class, the entity of the state ensures the failure of the society. Greed, divisiveness, neglect and pecuniary self-interest hasten the fall of a nation – while outside the gates the gathering barbarian horde grows and searches for the unguarded portal.
The cycle of victory and success eventually lapsing into a ruinous complacency that destroyed Greece and which Thucydides described as “what has been before will ever be as long as human nature is the same” is to be found alive and flourishing, from the floundering European Union to a rapidly weakening United States.
Victor Davis Hanson, in his newest book The Savior Generals, suggests a growing parallel between our nation and Belisarius’ Byzantium, which Hanson describes as crippled by a “vast public bureaucracy” that “translated into ever fewer Byzantines engaged in private enterprise, wealth creation, and the defense of the realm – at precisely the time its enemies were growing in power and audacity”.
The Wheel of Time does indeed turn, bringing with it to fresh ground the accumulated detritus of the human experience.