I recently was directed towards this essay by Sir John Glubb. It was a long read, but also a worth while one. And very interesting, too. I believe it was written (or at least published) in the late 1970's. Nevertheless, the information in it seemed to apply to this very day and age.
Now, the article is long (26 pages to be exact), but it's worth setting the time aside to read. In fact I think YOU should read it. Lol. I mean, it wasn't 100% good... but it was pretty good ;)
'The only thing we learn from history,' it has been said, ‘is that men never learn from history’ - Fate of an Empires by Sir John Glubb.
But for your convenience, and just in case you decide not to go read it, I will share with you some excerpts and some of my thoughts.
The first thing Glubb does is to explain what an empire is, according to his essay. This is vital for understanding the context of his whole message.
The word ‘empire’, by association with the British Empire, is visualized by some people as an organisation consisting of a home country in Europe and ‘colonies’ in other continents. In this essay, the term ‘empire’ is used to signify a great power, often called today a superpower. Most of the empires in history have been large land blocks, almost without overseas possessions.
The summary is very neat, as it basically gives you all the hot spots of what he touched on. In fact, this summary alone is almost enough ;) The summary, according to the last part of the article, was as follows;
(a) We do not learn from history because our studies are brief and prejudiced.
(b) In a surprising manner, 250 years emerges as the average length of national greatness.
(c) This average has not varied for 3,000 years. Does it represent ten generations?
(d) The stages of the rise and fall of great nations seem to be:
The Age of Pioneers (outburst)
The Age of Conquests
The Age of Commerce
The Age of Affluence
The Age of Intellect
The Age of Decadence.
(e) Decadence is marked by: Defensiveness Pessimism Materialism Frivolity An influx of foreigners The Welfare State A weakening of religion.
(f) Decadence is due to: Too long a period of wealth and power Selfishness Love of money The loss of a sense of duty.
(g) The life histories of great states are amazingly similar, and are due to internal factors.
(h) Their falls are diverse, because they are largely the result of external causes.
(i) History should be taught as the history of the human race, though of course with emphasis on the history of the student’s own country.
There are a couple things in this summary I'd like to touch on. The first being point (a).
I love what he said about us not learning from history due to bias.
How many of us truly know what happened in the past... or even today? There are always so many prejudices that we have to put into the picture, so many ideals that have warped histories. And we have to remember that most histories were written by the person that won or survived the conflict in question.
Of course, the victor always makes himself look good.
And then those that choose what is to be taught... their agendas and beliefs largely affect what is being taught. So, it's safe to say it's hard to know what you know is really what you should be knowing :) Basically all your facts you've been taught may very well be lies... or truths mixes with lies, which can be even worse.
He also made a good point in the essay about how people are taught history from the perspective of what they deem important. We don't cover all of the world's history. We don't explain both sides. We don't try to know what's happened or happening elsewhere in the world unless we think it directly involves our well fare.
And his points on how most "empires" have followed the same pattern of stages, all lasting for about 200-250 years was extremely interesting to me.
Perhaps the most dangerous by-product of the Age of Intellect is the unconscious growth of the idea that the human brain can solve the problems of the world…. The impression that the situation can be saved by mental cleverness, without unselfishness or human self-dedication, can only lead to collapse. - John Glubb.
Again, focusing on one of his stages, this struck me as interesting. We are all for education. It seems good and wise... but many things take more than mere brains to solve. There's more to life-sustaining empires than ourselves, basically.
When we read the history of our own nation, we find the actions of our ancestors described as glorious, while those of other peoples are depicted as mean, tyrannical or cowardly. Thus our history is (intentionally) not based on facts. We are emotionally unwilling to accept that our forbears might have been mean or cowardly. Alternatively, there are ‘political’ schools of history, slanted to discredit the actions of our past leaders, in order to support modern political movements. In all these cases, history is not an attempt to ascertain the truth, but a system of propaganda, devoted to the furtherance of modern projects, or the gratification of national vanity.
Of course, though, we would want to think ourselves best. That our country does the most good and was always in the right. That we are the "Land of the Free", "Home of the Brave", but the sad truth is that it's just all lies for vanity's sake.
Are we really free?
How many of us our truly brave? Willing to stand up for truth? Neighbor? God?
That's right... God is a part of the past...
It's all about what we need for our own comfort... who really cares that we live by lies... especially when those lies feel good...
Perhaps, in fact, we may reach the conclusion that the successive rise and fall of great nations is inevitable and, indeed, a system divinely ordained. But even this would be an immense gain. For we should know where we stand in relation to our human brothers and sisters. In our present state of mental chaos on the subject, we divide ourselves into nations, parties or communities and fight, hate and vilify one another over developments which may perhaps be divinely ordained and which seem to us, if we take a broader view, completely uncontrollable and inevitable. If we could accept these great movements as beyond our control, there would be no excuse for our hating one another because of them. However varied, confusing and contradictory the religious history of the world may appear, the noblest and most spiritual of the devotees of all religions seem to reach the conclusion that love is the key to human life. Any expansion of our knowledge which may lead to a reduction in our unjustified hates is therefore surely well worth while.
Of course, the only thing we want to know after reading this essay is can we escape this pending fall of our country? Or are all doomed at the end of 250 years?
John Glubb doesn't give a straight answer. He suggests that maybe this is all arranged by the hand of divinity - I think he had more leniences towards Islam than God, but we can still take this to mean God doesn't want us becoming too powerful, so he only allows nations to thrive for 250 years.
But then Glubb goes on to say, either way, despite it being set by the hand of God or not, shouldn't this give us more reason to love our neighbors rather than hate?
Lol, the classical final answer boils down to love.
And sometimes, I'm like, "Enough of love, let's do something."
But really, is it such a wrong idea? Didn't Jesus come because of love?
Aren't we to love all?
Maybe this classic answer is the correct one.
As long as we are showing love in the correct way.
Because love isn't necessarily tolerant. Or says what people want to hear. Or makes one feel good.
Love can still be hard.
Because real love is giving, not receiving.
And if a few more of us could learn to give more... maybe then our country would really have a fighting chance to live.