The Longue Durée

The Frogs, even the 20th century ones, weren’t completely useless. The longue durée approach to history, for instance, has the potential to reconcile us to these troubling times.

It gives priority to long-term historical structures over what François Simiand called histoire événementielle (“evental history”, the short-term time-scale that is the domain of the chronicler and the journalist), concentrating instead on all-but-permanent or slowly evolving structures, and substitutes for elite biographies the broader syntheses of prosopography. The crux of the idea is to examine extended periods of time and draw conclusions from historical trends and patterns.

(In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link, “prosopography” is the study of family trees and suchlike).

In the long run, of course, we’re all dead, but looking at the long run can help us make sense of this particular shitty point in history, in which so many good things are ending.

So much of long-run history is simply the story of people as people — that is, as organisms. As everyone on this side of the fence knows, evolution is copious, local, and recent. We’re currently inhabiting something like the crisis of the third century. The third century crisis had lots of origins, not all of them of human manufacture, but surely a large part of it was, quite simply, third-century people. The Romans who so comprehensively fucked up the Empire were not the same kind of biological organism as the Romans who carved out the Empire in the first place.

Luxury is fatal to civilization. (Not original to me, of course — Sallust said the same thing, about this exact topic). The hard men of the Late Republic would’ve been corrupted by the Late Empire… but they would’ve survived, maybe even thrived, if they’d fallen into a time machine and were warped a few hundred years forward. The girly men of the Late Empire would’ve wilted and died had they fallen into the time machine and been sent a few hundred years backward.

There were still a few hard men in the Late Empire, of course, but they did what our hard men should and will do — they looked after their own. As a historian, if I’m honest with myself and my discipline, I can’t even really blame our Pozzed idiots for being Pozzed, and more than I can blame Dalmatian dogs for being dumb and unhealthy. They’ve had it bred into them; they can do no other.

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