Presentation notes

-Exhausted topic, I can’t dare to discover the fundamental causes, but I must admit that I do perceive a flaw in the scholarship of others.

-BRIEFLY talk about historiography of fall (reference historiography essay)

– draw on board:

Let’s take Goldsworthy as an example:

infighting and civil war > degraded military standards and central authority > weakened defense > invasion by barbarians

What’s the problem here?

a: why is this (civil wars) happening? What is causing men to murder each other, how has the pursuit of gold and power become the lowest common denominator? What determines the actions of people?

inclination, desires, aversions, judgments > …

And how are these things determined by people?

knowledge/perception of the good > inclination … > …

My argument is that this decline (highlight all superficial causes) was necessarily predicated on a psychological decline, as the late Roman aristocracy no longer had a knowledge of how to rule well.

What was this knowledge in the time before the decline, which allowed the roman leadership to exercise self-sacrificing civic duty and thus ensured the prosperity of the Republic, and later the Empire?

The philosophy of Stoicism.

3rd century BCE, Zeno, taught on a stoa (porch), became the defacto religion and civic philosophy of the Mediterranean aristocracy since at least the time of the diadochi, and had a profound impact on roman leadership, so much so that by the time of the 1st century BCE Plutarch relates to us that stoic exemplars like Cato the Younger were considered to be ideal Romans worthy of serious emulation; civic and roman virtue became synonymous with stoic virtue. What is stoicism?

In the life of the individual man, virtue is the sole good; such things as health, happiness, possessions, are of no account. Since virtue resides in the will, everything really good or bad in a man’s life depends only upon himself. He may become poor, but what of it? He can still be virtuous. A tyrant may put him in prison, but he can still persevere in living in harmony with Nature. He may be sentenced to death, but he can die nobly, like Socrates. Therefore every man has perfect freedom, provided he emancipates himself from mundane desires.

– Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy (254)

The stoics believed in a universal reason (known as the Logos) which bound together all of humanity, and interpreted all people as being equal and sharing in bonds of fellowship. Living in accordance with reason and virtue they held that in order to live properly one must recognize this common reason and the essential value of all people, treating others with fairness and magnanimity.

The four cardinal virtues are wisdom (sophia), courage (andreia), justice (dikaiosyne) and temperance(sophrosyne).

The stoics held that action and choice were extensions of virtue, and sought to behave constantly in a fashion consistent with those goods; they sought to build a self-sacrificing and tempered character, and so wielded the knowledge necessary to rule others.

My thesis is that this mode of thought was common in the behaviors of the aristocracy during the reign of the Five Good Emperors of the 1st and 2nd centuries CE, most notably under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, who professed himself to be a stoic and also comprised a book of Stoic meditations in his own right, all the while holding the reigns of power to the most powerful state on earth.

My argument contends that this philosophy’s rejection in the next century during the tumultuous “crisis of the third century”, a period of widespread anarchy in which dozens of pretender emperors vied to seize the throne, was a significant contributing factor in the decline of the Empire.

I will illustrate this argument by dissecting the historical record: the reign of Marcus was plagued by threats and dangers: barbarian adventurism, plague, for instance, yet the Stoic emperor endured and sought to bring about a just and fair society. This is in stark contrast to the petty men which followed him: professing no conviction in Stoicism and who fought each other like mad dogs for mere power and gold, all the while inflicting widespread and irrevocable damage to infrastructure, the social order and the rule of law. In this manner I will not argue that the rejection of stoicism was the essential cause of decline, but rather that its abandonment began a psychological decline in the minds of the leadership and officers, precipitating the fatal causes.