I used to ask that question to every incoming class, and always got the same answer: “To avoid making the mistakes of the past.” But that’s not true, and everyone knows it. You don’t need to know how Napoleon turned out to know starting a land war in Asia’s a bad idea, because you’ll never be in a position to start a land war in Asia in the first place. Similarly, you don’t need Napoleon to tell you to stand up straight and clean up your room — it’s good advice, no doubt, but following it isn’t going to make you Napoleon.
It’s not about outcome, then. Studying history is about process.
That’s what that “creating an informed citizenry” stuff was supposed to be about, back when college was supposed to do that. Consider any one of the Big Questions — say, “why did the Roman Empire fall?” No matter which way you answer it, the process of coming up with an answer — evaluating evidence, considering alternatives — teaches you something important that you can apply to your adult life:
If you agree with Gibbon that it’s basically Christianity’s fault, then you learn about the importance of ideology to social order and national identity (funny, isn’t it, that they stopped teaching Gibbon just as Socialism really got going? Turns out a love-the-world utopian fantasy really does rot your society from the inside out).
Maybe you hold that monetary policy was largely responsible. Tax farmers, routinely debased coinage, the constant drain of “donatives” to pay off the army, bread and circuses for the masses… seems plausible, which is why they don’t teach that one much anymore, either. Other than clippable edges, the difference between a mostly copper denarius and a fiat dollar is… what. exactly? They both rest on the full faith and credit of the government, and we all know what that’s worth.
Speaking of tax farmers, you could subscribe to the thesis that the Empire was grossly understaffed. You need a certain amount of bureaucracy to make any large enterprise go, but it has to be the right amount, and especially the right kind. Without a real “civil service,” the Empire relied too much on local elites, any one of whom could suborn a legion commander or two and cause all kinds of problems (if the local elite in question wasn’t himself the legion commander already). Here again, it’s obvious why you won’t hear that one in a college classroom — these days we call them “Hawaiian judges,” but the effect is the same.
Heck, you won’t even hear an old-school Marxist “class conflict” explanation anymore, though it’s certainly plausible. Not because the Romans didn’t have brutal class divisions, of course, but because academics, despite being Marxists, aren’t entirely stupid — “bread and circuses” only works until you run out of other people’s money, which is not a lesson the Education-Industrial Complex wants anyone learning.
Nor do you hear much about the latifundia, the Multinational Corporations of their day, hollowing out the Empire’s military manpower base while simultaneously destroying the currency. Which is funny, what with every professor in America being a drooling “anti-capitalist,” but there you have it…. ha ha, of course I’m kidding. It’s obvious why they don’t teach that one — latifundia were staffed entirely by slaves. Non-Roman slaves, and immigration is great, ergo it can’t have been those hardworking Gauls and Celts and Picts, who were just trying to make a better life for themselves and their families. Plus, latifundia also caused massive overproduction of elites, and free college is a Constitutional right, so.,…
Finally, maybe the collapse of the Roman Empire was just bad luck. These things happen. The crisis of the third century was only partly of human manufacture. Plagues and natural disasters played a significant role, and since inertia is the default state of all human organizations, only exceptionally skillful leadership could’ve mitigated some of the damage… and the potential for an exceptionally skillful leader to arise varies inversely with the amount of social inertia. We’ve had a good innings, as our cousins across the pond say, but maybe it’s time to hang up our jocks and hit the showers. But here again, that thesis has some obvious consequences that nobody in academia wants to talk about, starting with the fact that the stuff after the Empire is called the Dark Ages. That’s a little too on the nose — while eggheads are always trying to outdo each other in displays of anti-White piety, normal folks have other ideas.
See what I mean? So what’s left, other than saying that the Roman Empire fell because they were too mean to gays, girls, blacks, and trannies… and that only after an entire semester proclaiming, Mary Beard-style, that gays, girls, blacks, and trannies were the only thing keeping the Empire running in the first place?Loading Likes...