We will continue to compare the parallels that exist between ancient Rome and the E.U., and what they can teach us. In part 1 we examined the role of the leaders, decadence, invasion and immigration, and factors beyond control. We now finish by looking at Brexit, the economy, tensions between east and west, and if the E.U. was doomed from the start.
Brexit and rebellions
Bryan Ward-Perkins’ The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (2005) makes the point that constant invasions led to rebellions, as a measure of self-help to deal with the situation. This further depleted Imperial resources. The Empire in its latter days had a tendency to break up in to smaller blocks. Well, in this vein we have had the Brexit rebellion. Fed up with uncontrolled migration, 17.4 million people voted to leave. When the U.K. does eventually leave, this will further deplete E.U. resources. Allied to this Britain rode out the 2008 financial crisis better than most. This was because it was not tied to the disaster area of the Euro single currency.
It also highlights the issue of a lack of a pan-European identity. There never has been one, and as we saw from the example of Blaenau Gwent, the E.U. has also failed to achieve one. Much like Rome, people had a tendency to stick with tribe over a Supranational organisation encompassing many nations. When the pressure of a crisis hits, tribes or in the modern-day case nations look after their own first and foremost. They don’t feel a strong connection to the E.U., and we are seeing more rebellions as time goes on. Poland, Hungary, the Visegrad nations and others are refusing to take migrants. The E.U. is threatening to take them to court. How exactly they will enforce these decisions remains to be seen. Under Rome the legions were sent in to quell the situation. Will the new E.U. army be used the same way?
Some remoaners claimed to feel ‘European’ first and not British. They paraded around with their faces painted with the E.U. flag, etc. They tell us the U.K. is doomed economically, etc. Under free movement rules they could all move to the ‘booming’ E.U. How many have left? I don’t know any. In contrast U.K. passport applications from E.U. citizens have soared. As usual those doing well out of a system don’t want it to change. Others believe the regime propaganda that all is well. It is those who are poorest who are hit hardest, and those on the under-pressure edges that feel the greatest effects. Hence the less well-off voted leave. And countries like Greece suffer the most.
How does the Emperor keep order? Why, he punishes and makes an example of the rebels. In ancient Rome, this took the form of crucifixions, slavery, confiscation of property, etc. Today, Juncker and his toadies have to be seen to punish Britain for the imagined ‘crime’ of voting to leave. The E.U. will cut off its nose to spite its face. This will only firm up the leave vote support, and hasten the inevitable E.U. decline by worsening its economic problems, as we shall see below.
Ward-Perkins mentioned resources being depleted. The tax base shrank as Rome faced invasions. Provinces breaking away had the same effect. Heather writes of Rome stripping the Western provinces to pay to sort problems in the East. As a result, less was spent on infrastructure, public buildings. Local elites shifted their interest from their localities to the central bureaucracies. Waves of invasions had left provinces weak economically.
As for the E.U., we have had Western Europe paying in large contributions for decades. Germany, Britain, France and others have been paying to finance the Eastern European countries. This, along with the Eurozone disaster, has left the Western E.U. much weakened economically. High unemployment and youth unemployment abound. At the time of writing France has unemployment of 9.5%, and youth unemployment of 21.4%. Italy is 11.1% and 35.4%. Spain is 17.22% and 39.2%. Belgium is 7.6% and 21.4%. Sweden is 6.6% and 19.3%. Greece is at 21.7% and 44.4% (Figures courtesy of tradingeconomics.com). You get the picture. Waves of migration from inside and outside of the E.U. have left wages low, and jobs harder to come by.
A bank of England study in 2015 said immigration lowered wages by at least 2%. The biggest impact is on the semi/unskilled sectors. Migrants on low/minimum wages have left large swathes of Europe’s youth unable to work. They cannot get the basic first jobs on the employment ladder. One E.U. country continues to do well, and that is Germany. Make of that what you will. Put all these factors together and the E.U. is stagnating economically. Britain on the outside continues to do well, #DespiteBrexit (4.4% and 12.1%).
The Greek financial crisis continues to rumble on unabated. Britain is leaving. Just like the Romans, the E.U. will find itself short of cash, due to loss of territory and stripping the west to pay for the east.
Problems between East and West
When the Roman Empire fell in the west, what remained in the east carries on. To us it is commonly known as the Byzantine Empire, they called themselves Romans. It took on a more Greek identity, focused on Constantinople, and had its own Patriarch to oversee orthodox Christianity. It was they who successfully converted the Russ, ancestors of modern Russia. Here was preserved much of the ancient learning from Greek and Roman academics, scholars, doctors, philosophers, scientists, mathematicians, etc. The Empire had split in to east and west, each with its own Emperor.
Today we see the same tensions between east and west. Poland, Hungary, the Visegard group are at loggerheads with the E.U. over migration, amongst other things. It remains to be seen if they will break away. They already have a ready-made replacement structure. Could it be they who safeguard European traditions such as Christianity, rule of law, human rights, and intellectual freedom? They may preserve the legacy and carry it down the ages while western mainland Europe falls.
Doomed from the start?
Arnold. J Toynbee and James Burke argue that the Roman Empire was doomed from the start, that it was rotten from its inception. In their view, the Empire could never have lasted. The Romans had no budgetary system. The Empire relied on booty from conquered territories (this source of revenue ending, of course, with the end of Roman territorial expansion) or on a pattern of tax collection that drove small-scale farmers into destitution (and onto a dole that required even more exactions upon those who could not escape taxation.)
In the same way, the E.U. demands ever more from taxpayers in its net contributor countries. The Common Agricultural Policy dooms small farmers in other countries so it can prop up French agriculture (Although they won’t need to make wine for much longer). E.U. accounts have not been signed off in over 10 years. The E.U. is also being pushed to expand, to plug an ever-growing budget black hole, especially with Britain leaving. The system was rotten from the beginning, a covert attempt to set up a socialist pan-European Super state. Like all socialism, it is doomed to fail. There is no European identity, there never has been. Europe has always been a Europe of the nations, and rightly so.
A ‘Hard’ or a ‘Soft’ Fall?
Historians of Late Antiquity, a field pioneered by Peter Brown, have turned away from the idea that the Roman Empire “fell.” They see a “transformation” occurring over centuries, with the roots of Medieval culture contained in Roman culture and focus on the continuities between the classical and Medieval worlds. Thus, it was a gradual process with no clear break. Ward-Perkins’ theory, much like Bury’s, and Heather’s, identifies a series of cyclic events that came together to cause a definite decline and fall. The primary difference in his work and Bury’s, was that like Heather, they had access to archaeological records which strongly supported the stance that the fall was a genuine disaster for millions.
Rather than worry about a ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit, the E.U. should worry about whether it is in for a hard or soft fall. Will the E.U. slowly dwindle over time, with countries naturally breaking away bit by bit, and perhaps carrying on some parts of the E.U. e.g. its legislation? Or is it in for a hard fall? One where millions suffer, and the E.U. is destroyed quickly, and those most closely associated with it suffer most. Will there be a modern sack of Rome, carried out by its own Alaric? Given the migration and economic situation, I know which my money is on.
Historians have long argued about the reasons for the fall of Rome. This isn’t the issue here. The point is that the EU fits every one of the theories. The E.U. is also making all the same mistakes. When Rome fell in the West, it ushered in what became known as the Dark Ages. Various people flooded in to Europe. The Vandals (clue is in the name) ran riot. Europe came under assault from Islam, and countries like Greece and Spain were overrun. It took centuries to reclaim them. However, as we now know the Dark Ages were not that Dark, and Spain was able to win back it’s freedom. The barbarian invaders became Christian, or were Christian to start with. They took up the mantle of Rome, its legacies, its values and regarded themselves as Romans or the heirs to Rome. The Visigoths of Spain are a prime example.
As the EU falls, it remains to be seen if we will be so lucky. Today’s invaders are not being fought. There is no modern-day Alfonso VI. Instead they are appeased. The values of the West are not being taken on, there is a danger of losing any legacy of the West. Borders are almost non-existent. Greece again is being flooded with peoples from the East. How long it remains Greece in anything but name is up for debate. The same goes for Italy, Sweden and Germany. The country formerly known as France is lost. Others will follow. The E.U. awaits its modern Alaric. Germanic tribes were the downfall of Rome. It looks like Germanic policies will be the downfall of this modern empire. Merkel has opened the floodgates and unleashed a latter-day Cetus.
Britain may not be immune to all the effects of the inevitable E.U. collapse. But suffice to say, I think the further removed we are from the E.U. in every way, the more insulated we will be. There was evidence for this in the 2008 crash.
As with the Roman Empire enduring in the East with the so called “Byzantines”, so the Visegrad nations can take up the mantle and preserve Western culture and values. They may be a beacon in the coming darkness. In 1984, Orwell said hope lies with the Proles. In 2017, it lies with the Poles.
Using information from:
Fall of Rome. (2017, March 25). New World Encyclopedia, . Retrieved 13:10, August 29, 2017 from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Fall_of_Rome&oldid=1003908.