The Roman Empire was, in many ways, very dependent on the estimated 10% of its population that were Jews, back there in the First Century. It was one of the bright spots in the economic and social life of the SPQR, that made it the most powerful and most wealthy civilization (at least outside of China) since Noah’s flood (or human history – take your pick).
But Rome had serious problems, which we will look at and compare to our Western Civilization’s current and future condition. (See Part 1 and Part 2 to catch up.)
Before we leave the subject of the Judeans (Jews) in the 1st and 2nd Century (AD) Roman Imperium, we need to ask. What went wrong?
Why did the vital, even essential partnership of the Hebrews and the Romans go bad?
It was, at heart, a very uneasy partnership, fraught with problems. Due to idiocy on both sides. There were the Zealots and their ilk in Canaan, restive in their “subordinate” relationship with the SPQR, and sure of their understanding of the prophesies of the Tanakh (the Old Testament). On the other hand was Roman “politics as usual” with its normal short-sightedness and stupidity, perhaps best illustrated by Caligula and his narcissistic madness. To stupid and unobservant Roman “powers-that-be” (the syncopants of the Emperor), the Jews were just another conquered people who brought still more foreign influences and disruption to the Capitol. Never mind their critical value in commerce, industry, and military affairs.
There had been revolts and rebellions regularly since AD 6, in Judea and Galilee. Although most Roman governors did a good job of suppressing them and keeping the homeland leaders at least in a mood of cooperation. But the butting of heads and beliefs continued.
And in AD 66 when the Zealots gained the upper hand in what is today Israel, everything fell apart. The Legions had to respond and crush the uprising. Including, oddly enough in modern ideas, the Jewish soldiers in the Legions! It wasn’t just a matter of a rebellious and remote province, as most people believe today. Judea was critical to the Empire: second only to Rome itself, indeed, And not just because it guarded the flank of wheat-rich Egypt! So a truly huge number of troops, totalling five legions, was deployed.
And things went worse: the Temple was destroyed, and the back of Judean resistance was shattered. But so was the role that Jews played in the Roman economy and military. It was far from overnight: it took most of a century and two more wars. And really stupid (Roman) government actions, such as a special Fiscus Judaicus (Jewish tax) on ALL Jews in the Imperium. But ultimately, Rome lost a critical part of its empire. And over the next couple of centuries, decayed in many, many ways.
The economic drag of slavery and the cultural mindset that intellectual and manual labor were beneath the ruling class and those aspiring to power, coupled with severe damage to their society and economy by ever-more-powerful government, the generations-long punishment of the Jews, massive spending to support government and the military, and yes, even moral decay, all weakened Rome and the entire empire. And when the really hard times came, it resulted in collapse.
How does this relate to our situation today? The Fifty States has avoided two of the major reasons that Rome was not sustainable in the long run – more than a couple of hundred years. We got rid of slavery – or did we? We libertarians like to say that taxation is slavery, and it more and more true the higher taxes go. Especially when (through debt) we tax the future.
Americans, and Europeans, love to say how much they respect and support the working classes: the manual laborers. And the middle class, producing and teaching and more. But the modern ruling classes are as adverse to manual labor (including actually making things) that we’ve flogged a lot of it off to China and Indonesia and India.
And the despised, essentially-enslaved equivalent of 1st Century Jews? The very same productive working and middle classes. They are lorded over by the “titans” of industry – who don’t get their own hands dirty anymore than the typical Roman “farmer” did. These are the educational elite, the princes of entertainment (including media in general), the massive political and bureaucratic class, constantly growing in numbers, wealth and power.
And even Gibbon’s five factors all seem to be present: ever more immorality, destruction of families (done by government as well as individual immorality), spending for bread and circuses, ever-ramping-up military spending and forces, constant seeking of pleasure, and the decline and collapse of religion (of all sorts except humanism and environism).
The amazing thing? That we’ve survived so far!
So what do we do? (Besides prepare to survive the fall?) We push back against these evils: defacto slavery, the denigration of actually producing things of use and value, the refusal to accept responsibility for our actions (the basis of all morality), the vicious cancelation of any and all opponents, and all the rest. Acting against them, teaching (and even preaching) against them, and doing as little as possible to support those who push and do these things.
Didn’t say it was easy, did they? If it had been easy, we might still find ourselves in a 2500-year-old SPQR-run imperium.
Rome was destroyed by multiculturalism. Jews, “barbarians” all flooded the Empire and hollowed it out from within by refusing to assimilate. Regardless of your/their views on the propriety of slavery and other elements of the Roman Empire, these multicultural elements did not go down in a Roman ‘melting pot’ — they resisted what made Rome, Rome. The corrosive effects of multiculturalism remain unrecognized to the present day.
Frank, I think you have a good strong argument for the Empire being destroyed by a version of our modern “multiculturalism,” particularly the barbarian tribesmen. But I do not think that the Hebrews were really a part of that multicultural threat. If we include them in that, we have to include the Greeks (including those of Achaea. Magna Graecia, and the Hellenistic Successors of Alexander (particularly the Seleucids and Ptolemies . Indeed, I think that the Greeks, culturally, contributed far more to that multicultural and bogus “melting pot” that so characterizes Roman decay. Keep in mind that many of the Jews had also Hellenized – a major factor in unrest in Judea and Galilee.