12. Roman society constantly faced and consistently failed to solve the contradiction between centralism and local interests and local rights. This contradiction increased with increasing size, diversity and complexity.
13. Psychological forces played a part in the breakdown and break-up of Roman civilization. People lost faith and hope. They became disillusioned and cynical. They forgot the common good and devoted themselves to the gratification of body hungers. They turned from proud service of fatherland to the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Romans lost freshness and vigor. Creativeness had never been as highly regarded among the Romans as it was among the Greeks. Life was lived closer to the surface. It was confined more and more to the present. Growth in the volume of Roman life sapped its vitality so that there was less surplus for experiment and innovation as more and more of the social income was devoted to meeting overhead costs.
Moralists have insisted that the decline and dissolution of Roman civilization resulted from the abandonment of moral standards. Undoubtedly this was true. The upstanding womanhood and manhood of early Rome was replaced by a wealth-seeking, pleasure-loving, parasitically inclined population. But these features of Roman life under the empire and during the period of Roman decline were the outcome of political, economic and social forces that have characterized one civilization after another. Instead of insisting that Rome declined and fell because it was immoral, it would be far more accurate to insist that Rome declined and fell because the objectives which it sought, the means it employed and the civilized institutions which it developed contained within themselves oppositions and contradictions which led to decline and dissolution. Rome declined and fell because the ideas, institutions and practices upon which it depended—the ideas, institutions and practices of civilization—could lead to no other outcome.
THE ORIGINS OF WESTERN CIVILIZATIONS
An experiment with civilization presently spans the planet Earth. It is called “modern,” “contemporary” or “western civilization.” Its artifacts, institutions and practices predominate in Europe, North America and Australasia. They play a prominent role in the lives of Asians, South Americans and Africans.
Two thousand years ago a long established Egyptian civilization was passing into the shadows. Civilizations in China and India were developing. Roman civilization was approaching the zenith of its ascendancy.
A thousand years ago Roman civilization, like that of Egypt, was a memory; Chinese and Indian civilizations were holding their own, while the followers of Islam were reaching out into Central Asia, North Africa and Eastern Europe.