A few months ago, a good friend of mine sent me an essay written by notable British general and historian Sir John Bagot Glubb called The Fate of Empires in which he examined the lifespans of eleven different empires across history. Glubb’s observation was that each empire spanned a period of approximately 10 generations, or 250 years. The table below shows the data that Glubb was examining.
|Nation||Dates of Rise and Fall||Duration in Years|
|Persia (Cyrus and his descendants)||538-330 B.C.||208|
|Greece (Alexander and his successors)||331-100||231|
|Roman Republic||260-27 B.C.||233|
|Roman Empire||27 B.C.-A.D. 180||207|
|Arab Empire||A.D. 634-880||246|
What’s more, the lifecycle of each of these empires appeared to follow a predictable pattern of stages from their inception to their downfall. Glubb identifies seven stages, in particular, that can be identified across every empire. They are, in chronological order, the Age of Pioneers, the Age of Conquests, the Age of Commerce, the Age of Affluence, the Age of Intellect, the Age of Decadence, and the Age of Decline & Collapse. The essay is a fascinating little read, and I’ll link it for download here, along with some helpful notes but for the sake of readers here I will give a brief summary of each age according to Glubb’s description.
An empire starts in the Age of Pioneers, when a small group of people suddenly emerge from their homeland and overrun a large area of the world, usually in an “extraordinary display of energy and courage”. Driven by such ambition, this small group manages the overthrow of old regimes that came before them, and allows them to amass many of the engines of war and the sophisticated weapons of their old adversaries. So begins the Age of Conquest, when they organize themselves into a formidable military presence to solidify and expand their hold over the new land. The new nation, now fully operational and armed, uses its new resources and infrastructure to promote an Age of Commerce. The wealth generated by the new economy causes the nation to grow “immensely rich”, and the cash flows generated from this new commerce become directed away from reinvestment, instead promoting art, architecture, and other staples of luxury. Luxury, of course, softens men, and so begins the Age of Affluence, marked by a decline in courage, enterprise, and a sense of duty. Even education tracks away from being a means of acquiring knowledge and virtue, and becomes a vehicle for increasing salary. Glubb describes this as the “high noon” of the empire, the inflection point, marked by a fundamental change in disposition “from service to selfishness”. For reference, he associates it in the United States with the era of Woodrow Wilson (the beginning of the “roaring 20’s”).
High noon is also marked by young people who “once engaged in the pursuit of adventure and military glory” now turning their energy towards academic honors and intellectualism. Thus the Age of Intellect is born, ushering in leaps and bounds in philosophy and natural science, but poisoning the youth with the idea that the human mind can solve the world’s problems all by itself without sufficient application of physical labor and dedication. Intellectualism sows the seeds for the desctruction of the nation, because, as Glubb says, “In a wider national sphere, the survival of the nation depends basically on the loyalty and self-sacrifice of the citizens.” There are virtues that can only be expressed by getting your hands dirty. Interestingly, Glubb associates the Age of Intellect with increasingly intense political factions, the influx of foreigners. All of this should sound anecdotally familiar to the average American.
As the decline of power and wealth continues, the nation becomes intoxicated with “universal pessimism”. With the sun on its way towards the horizon again, the self-confidence that the nation once had is beginning to wane. I would add that the pursuit of intellectualism lends itself towards the abdication of physical labor, and this decline in the physicality of life contributes to feelings of purposelessness. Frivolity follows; “let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die”. The Age of Decadence is born. Entertainment becomes the dominant focus of life and economic endeavor. Glubb notes, “The heroes of declining nations are always the same-the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius.” A decline in degeneracy, sexual morality, religious orthodoxy, as well as an increase in social welfare and existential crisis. This pessimism, frivolity, decadence, fragility, and degeneracy of the people and systems of the nation make it ripe to be fragmented and overrun; the Age of Decline and Collapse.
The United States of America is nearing her 245th birthday in a couple of weeks, just five years away from Glubb’s 250 year average for the lifespan of world powers. His descriptions of the Age of Decadence line up with any reasonable assessment of the present cultural condition of the USA. We are politically divided, intellectually driven, and pessimistic, for one. Our pursuit of social welfare has us on the brink of becoming a socialist utopia within the next few decades. Scholars like Camille Paglia agree that our rampant sexual immorality is an indicator of imminent decline. Not only are we abdicating marriage and inundated with an addiction to internet porn and free sex, we are increasingly a nation of homosexuals and transgenders. Such androgyny, Paglia says, is evidence that a civilization is unraveling, having become inundated with the same kind of pessimism and loss of societal self-confidence that Glubb speaks of. The rules of civilization necessitate the nurture and admonition of the next generation, and sexual deviance, whether via pornography or via transgenderism, stands in direct opposition to bringing forth children. It is a concept that I have called the “Culture of Death”, which I have written more about here. These things are evidence that the sun has almost set on our once-great nation. If I am being realistic, I am predicting the end of America (at least as we know it) well within my lifetime.
As a quick postscript, what we do not want to do, given this perspective, is resort to the same kind of pessimism and decadence that is contributing to the decline of the nation around us. The Puritan hope of being postmillenial means understanding that you are a citizen of an unshakable kingdom on the Earth; Christ’s kingdom. This world and its governments are His, and not Satan’s; Christ purchased the world and all that is in it with His blood, having attained all authority in Heaven and on Earth by His work on the Cross, and He admonishes us to roll through and take the whole thing for Him (Matthew 28:18-20). There will always be a place in the world for conscientious, virtuous, hardworking, courageous people at every stage in an empire, because our work in Christ is never labor that is done in vain (1 Corinthians 15:58).Share this post:
Chris Carter is the Editor in Chief of The New England Reformer. Chris earned a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from Clarkson University, but his post-univserity studies have taken him through various topics in theology and church history. He currently lives in Rochester, New York, but he also occaisionally preaches at a small baptist church in his hometown in Vermont.