“The evils by which a civilization dies are more specific, more complex, more deliberate, sometimes, more difficult to discover or to define. But we have learned to recognize that gigantism which is merely the morbid mimetism of growth, that waste which makes a pretense of wealth in states already bankrupt, that plethora so quickly replaced by dearth at the first crisis, those entertainments for the people provided from the upper levels of the hierarchy, that atmosphere of inertia and panic, of authoritarianism and of anarchy, those pompous reaffirmations of a great past amid present mediocrity and immediate disorder, those reforms which are merely palliatives and those outbursts of virtue which are manifested only by purges, those unacknowledged men of genius lost in the crowd of unscrupulous gangsters, of violent lunatics, of honest men who are inept and wise men who are helpless. The modern reader is at home in the Historia Augusta.”
—Marguerite Yourcenar, Faces of history in the Historia Augusta.
(Swans – August 16, 2004) The Historia Augusta is a compilation of dubious histories that questionably chronicle the Roman Empire in its decline. Most of it is incompetent lies. Yourcenar seems to be saying that this mediocre fumbling just fits the declining empire itself and is a better history of it than a more accurate one would be. In Yourcenar’s last section, which I have quoted above, she lists similarities between those times and ours. The comparison is startling. It is hard to avoid the feeling that we are in a similar stage. As with Rome, we have our honest men who are inept and wise men who are helpless. They still think they can cure the beast and set it back up on its feet again. But in its agony it cannot hear their obvious truths and lumbers on to its doom.
Each of the elements in the description is here. How about the recent Reagan extravaganza during the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib as a good example of pompous reaffirmations of a great past amid present mediocrity and immediate disorder?[ Full Article ]