By the third century AD, it was hard to imagine Rome being in worse condition. Historians literally refer to this period in Roman history as the Crisis of the Third Century. And it was brutal.
Roman citizens couldn’t believe what they were experiencing… it was incomprehensible to them that their fatherland had become so weakened.
Inflation was running rampant. The Empire was stuck in a quagmire of foreign wars and had suffered some humiliating defeats.
Rome experienced multiple bad pandemics, coupled with even worse government response.
Foreign invaders were flooding across their borders on a daily basis. Trade broke down, causing shortages in many vital goods.
And terrible social strife dominated people’s daily lives. Ordinary Roman citizens were at each other’s throats, and it was a time of disunity and outrage.
One contemporary writer of the era named Cyprian described the situation as follows:
“The World itself… testifies to its own declines by giving manifold concrete evidence of the process of decay… There is a decrease and deficiency in the field, of sailors on the sea, of soldiers in the barracks, of honesty in the marketplace, of justice in court, of concord in friendship, of skill in technique…”
Cyprian wasn’t just describing Rome’s obvious decline. Rather, his summary is an indictment of Rome’s inability to stop it’s decline.
Everyone in the imperial government knew what was happening in Rome. They simply lacked the ability to do anything about it.
Historian Arnold Toynbee called this the “Challenge and Response” effect… and it’s an interesting idea.
The concept is that every society has to deal with certain challenges; if the challenges are too great, the society will not survive… i.e. the desert is too harsh, the tundra is too frozen, etc.
But sometimes a society becomes so decadent, so prosperous, that it loses its ability to address challenges. It no longer has the social capital necessary— unity of purpose, the ability to compromise, the capacity to engage in rational debate.
That is the position where Rome found itself in the 3rd century AD. And I believe the West is quickly heading in this direction.
This is the subject of today’s podcast.
We start out talking about Rome’s mortal enemy… and how, after more than a century, Rome emerged victorious as the lone superpower in the Mediterannean.
Everything was great, and peace and prosperity reigned for more than 200 years.
But over that time, the decadence set in. Wheras once Romans had valued hard work, freedom, and unity of purpose, their entire value system changed.
People expected, then demanded, to be taken care of by the state. Corruption became commonplace.The bureaucracy multiplied. Social conflict soared.
And eventually Rome lost the ability to meet its challenges.
I make a lot of historical parallels to our modern world, including some specific examples of absurdities which occurred just in the last couple of days.
But I also discuss why, in the end, these conditions actually create unique opportunity for creative, hard working, talented people.
You can listen to the podcast here.