Glubb Glubb Glubb: The Noise A Drowning Civilization Makes

Here are excerpts and minor commentary on Lieutenant General Sir John Bagot Glubb’sThe Fate of Empires“, an essay which describes, at least for the West and for nations closely allied with the West, their rises and falls.

Glubb claims to have discovered a rough pattern in the history of empires. Western and Near Eastern ones, at any rate. He admits ignorance of empires of the East, Africa, and our great southern continent. From the Assyrian to the Persian to the Greek to the Roman Republic to the Roman Empire and so on up to once Great Britain, all empires last about 250 years, a period of time which, says Glubb, has remarkably little variation. The dates are not sharp, of course, but neither are they in great dispute.

All empires begin in rough, hardy, even foolhardy outbursts, led my men, more of less homogeneous in race, who treasure most adventure, duty and honor and who believe in a higher calling. If successful, trade begins and the money rolls in leading to an age of affluence.

From there, men’s minds turn from conquest and exploration and turn inward to the pursuit of greater wealth. Money soon trumps duty, honor, and religion. A defensive attitude predominates. Then, invariably says Glubb, arises the Age of Intellect. The once conquering princes “found and endow colleges and universities. It is remarkable with what regularity this phase follows on that of wealth, in empire after empire, divided by many centuries.” In the USA and Britain, “Now almost every city has its university.”

Great and wondrous things arise from the intellectual outburst. At first. “[I]n the age of Mamun, the Arabs measured the circumference of the earth with remarkable accuracy.” But under the theory that nothing succeeds like excess comes noise.

As in the case of the Athenians, intellectualism leads to discussion, debate and argument, such as is typical of the Western nations today. Debates in elected assemblies or local committees, in articles in the Press or in interviews on television—endless and incessant talking.

Men are interminably different, and intellectual arguments rarely lead to agreement. Thus public affairs drift from bad to worse, amid an unceasing cacophony of argument. But this constant dedication to discussion seems to destroy the power of action. Amid a Babel of talk, the ship drifts on to the rocks.

I cannot say that this blog does not contribute to the babble. Similarly, councils of war often lead to timidity, inaction, fear.

“Perhaps,” says Glubb, “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.” Though Glubb doesn’t put it this way, can quickly devolves to should. And then the real trouble begins. “Another remarkable and unexpected symptom of national decline is the intensification of internal political hatreds.”

Wealth entices foreigners, and the defensive posture and newfound generosity of the rulers allows the influx. “Historical examples of this phenomenon are scarcely needed. The idle and captious Roman mob, with its endless appetite for free distributions of food—bread and games—is notorious, and utterly different from that stern Roman spirit which we associate with the wars of the early republic.”

Even “Second- or third-generation foreign immigrants may appear outwardly to be entirely assimilated”, but as Glubb later says, when the breakdown invariably comes. He emphasizes, “that I do not wish to convey the impression that immigrants are inferior to older stocks. They are just different, and they thus tend to introduce cracks and divisions.” And “when decline sets in, it is extraordinary how the memory of ancient wars, perhaps centuries before, is suddenly revived, and local or provincial movements appear demanding secession or independence.” Mexicans still sting over the loss of California and Texas.

“A universal pessimism gradually pervades the people, and itself hastens the decline.” Frivolity, says Grubb, becomes the main occupation. “Gladiatorial shows, chariot races and athletic events were [the Roman’s] passion. In the Byzantine Empire the rivalries of the Greens and the Blues in the hippodrome attained the importance of a major crisis.”

Judging by the time and space allotted to them in the Press and television, football and baseball are the activities which today chiefly interest the public in Britain and the United States respectively.

The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius.

As it was declining, the remnant in Baghdad “commented bitterly on the extraordinary influence acquired by popular singers over young people, resulting in a decline in sexual morality… In the second half of the tenth century, as a result, much obscene sexual language came increasingly into use, such as would not have been tolerated in an earlier age.”

In what is sure to set off the loudest noise is Grubb’s observation that an “increase in the influence of women in public life has often been associated with national decline…In the tenth century, a similar tendency was observable in the Arab Empire, the women demanding admission to the professions hitherto monopolised by men.” Soon after the women were granted entry, “government and public order collapsed, and foreign invaders overran the country.” Grubb doesn’t say if Arabic women stood at their borders with signs reading “Refugees Welcome.”

The increasing welfare found at the end of all empires dries coffers, saps resolve, and erases memories. “The rights of citizenship are generously bestowed on every race, even those formerly subject, and the equality of mankind is proclaimed.” In Baghdad, “University students received government grants to cover their expenses while they were receiving higher education. The State likewise offered free medical treatment to the poor.” Glubb did not put scare quotes around “free”. “The impression that it will always be automatically rich causes the declining empire to spend lavishly on its own benevolence, until such time as the economy collapses”. The late great philosopher David Stove identified benevolence as the care that is killing us.

It is obvious that the decline in religion is found near all ends. It is “inevitable at such times that men should look back yearningly to the days of ‘religion’, when the spirit of self-sacrifice was still strong enough to make men ready to give and to serve, rather than to snatch.” Yet decadence can motivate self-sacrifice. “Some of the greatest saints in history lived in times of national decadence, raising the banner of duty and service against the flood of depravity and despair.” But recall saints are often accompanied, or are themselves, martyrs.

In short, “A community of selfish and idle people declines, internal quarrels develop in the division of its dwindling wealth, and pessimism follows, which some of them endeavour to drown in sensuality or frivolity. In their own surroundings, they are unable to redirect their thoughts and their energies into new channels.”

Glubb identifies no cure. None appears to exist. Once it settles into the bones, the rot is ineradicable. Discussing the doom hastens the doom. Yet remaining silent seems absurd. The parallels between the other failures and ourselves are obvious: those who can see know them only too well. For these folks, giving in to sensuality or frivolity will not be countenanced. It is from this small pool we will find our saints.

The only real questions are: how much longer, and who will be our replacement? The year 2026 may represent an important anniversary for the good old USA. ISIS made a good stab at an empire, and though it has been somewhat beaten back, may yet succeed.


  1. Joy

    Nope, there’ll always be an England.
    Great Britain is the official name of what used to be called England and which did actually refer to the entire island and other territories.

    The international media has churlishly refrained unless forced i.e. in compulsory situations, to use the official word ‘Great’. It smarts, you see, for some reason.

    As for negativity and doomsaying: Ahem, repeat.

    If you’re so sure and so certain then why fret about what is happening?
    Unless, of course, you still hide a hope in which case this makes you a caller for the other side whoever they are.

    So stop complaining and do something about it.
    Being miserable doesn’t help anybody. This is why the only attitude is optimism and hope.
    The stress induced by fretting or negativity induced by calling for the other side and moaning and whinging just affects your ability to deal with the outcome. The outcome which you claim is inevitable.

    So be happy and as frivolous as possible. Just don’t do it all the time.
    You might be one of the saints!

    Learn to sing.
    It’s exercise for the soul. You could always sing very serious songs in case frivolity should occur.

  2. Jim Fedako

    Shouldn’t we (in the collective sense) instead be lamenting the passing of the republic? Who wanted an empire anyway?

    NB: “great” only exists in the minds of Joy and her backward looking generation.

  3. Hmmm…didn’t Arnold Toynbee have pretty much the same to say about the rise and fall of civilizations (without specifying that arbitrary 250 year time period)?

  4. John B()

    Thank you for checking
    I was a bit skeptical as well

    If pedanticism was a reason to block comments, we’d all be out on our ear

  5. Michael Dowd

    Given that the Catholic Church has now become a participating party and active sympathizer with the current zeitgeist there seems to be no remaining countervailing moral power to national decline, i.e, Grubb is right and the Muslims are happy.

  6. DAV

    there’ll always be an England.

    Hopefully, the current mayor of London isn’t an indication otherwise.

  7. Excellent review and analysis–right up until the last sentence:

    “ISIS made a good stab at an empire, and though it has been somewhat beaten back, may yet succeed.”

    Can you possibly be serious? “ISIS” was a bit player in an intra-regional, intra-sectarian, intra-religious civil war. They are aided and abetted by actual empires which profit from ongoing chaos in the Arab states. “ISIS” was one of the players on the Sunni side of the latest version of a millennia-old Sunni-Shia struggle for cultural and regional supremacy, and rationalization of the fake national borders imposed on them by the last empires that ruled their turf.

    The neo-con hallucination of ISIS as a threat to American interests, or as a threat to establish an “empire” is absurd. ISIS is less of a threat to establish an empire threatening America than are MS13, Sinaloa, the Gulf Cartel, El Chapo, La Raza, BLM, and others.

    Other than that, interesting analysis.

    There are much greater threats to the US’s interests. The only current potential empire is in China–which has re-established, on steroids, the old Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

  8. Joy

    The term ISIS is used loosely to represent the known and current ongoing threat which is across most of Europe and of which Russians have historically feared more than any western threats.

    Islamisation is the word . Threat from ISIS may be considered through that means amongst many it just so happens to be one group calling itself ISIS. This is of course so plain as to be ridiculous to be pointing out.

    Complacent nations who think they are immune will fall. It’s very lucky that Trump was voted in and in my view this is what will turn the fortunes of the always undying threat from antichrists until the next time and place the ideology is allowed to grow.

    Some see the problem as if it were a choice, one threat over another, which is worse, who’s predicted correctly and so on. It’s so childish, very ‘fiddling while Rome burns.”

    It isn’t a choice because your enemy does not give you that option.
    You keep the ground or have it taken from you. The US by population has few enough Muslims right now for this not to be a threat. America has guns though, enough to render the problem far faster when the time comes. Unless, of course they stop pontificating and hoping the others will fall just low enough to keep them down and then the US will prevail.
    This attitude will not work. It was the old way and now Washington has to think again along with all it’s strategists and machiavellian types. Islam claims to do it with the womb. THAT is the main tactic.

    Christianity will always prevail in the end but how long do people want to look ahead.

    Which brings me to

    The reason why there will always be an England has to do with darkness and light in an everlasting sense. England exists already all over the world. Including in America!
    It helps to be British to appreciate this. It’s not poetry, it’s reality.
    There are places all over the world who are

    On the Mayor? There’s much to say and you have him sussed correctly.
    We’ll see.

  9. Anon

    Re: ISIS and assorted folk. While they may be as President Obama said, the “JV team,” biology is on their side. If those who are ideologically aligned continue to reproduce at a steady clip, while the West commits ritual suicide with its embrace of deliberately non-reproductive practices, the end game where the West has the losing end of the stick is not hard to imagine.

  10. Augustina

    It is interesting to note that most Chinese dynasties lasted between 200 – 300 years. I am a big history buff, and in my readings I noted the 200 – 300 year lifespan of empires before ever hearing of Glubb. I think he has a lot of good insights, and I am planning on exploring his writings further, especially his histories of the Muslim world, which is his area of expertise.

  11. The attacks in Europe are reactions to two issues, with a third factor thrown in for good measure:

    1. Historically: European imperial actions brought Middle Eastern states, and their people and problems, into the European fold. France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK, Holland, and others all formerly controlled Arab/African colonies. All allowed their colonials to immigrate. The former colonials were not assimilated well, in many cases. A seething ethnic underclass was created. Post-WW2, PC’s belief system swept the European cultures–destroying the homelands’ traditional beliefs, and replacing them with self-loathing.

    2. Currently: NATO/EU/US meddling in Middle Eastern political issues. We/They are killing, or sponsoring the killing of, Arabs and Africans of many stripes/nationalities/tribes/beliefs. This causes massive antagonism towards NATO/EU/USA among these groups’ supporters–nationality-based or religion-based. The reasons for the intervention/meddling are many and varied. For the EU, it is mainly economic. Hillary/Obama’s takedown of Kaddafi mainly benefited French/Italian oil companies. The neocon power structure pushes any war that damages its foreign sponsor’s enemies. Iran! ISIS! War! War! And the results are: those with sympathy for, or ties to, the victims of attacks–in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Algeria, etc.–strike out at the NATO states bombing their compadres.

    3. Africans and Arabs can WALK to Europe.

    None of these issues makes “ISIS” an empire. Fevered imaginings of a pan-Islamic imperial threat are as ludicrous coming from Europeans or Americans as from Islamic adherents.

    Anyone who knows anything about Islam knows that there are wide and deep cracks, splits, divisions, sects, and no possibility of any real military or imperial threat to America. The threat to Europe is the same as the threat to the USA from our internal issues–Black Lives Matter, La Raza/Azatlan, MS13, and others.

    An imperial invasion force made up of a ragtag bunch of regional civil war insurgents? May be a threat to AIPAC’s foreign sponsor, but not to the USA.

    In the meantime, the USA IS being invaded by actual terrorists–from the south.

  12. Sander van der Wal

    @Kent Clizbe

    Holland never had Arab colonies. The Cape colony was in Africa, but far away from any muslim influence at the time. Indonesia was and is not an Arab nation.

    Terrorism in Holland related to colonialism happened in the seventies, the terrorists were Moluccans who were still mad that Holland was not able to create a Moluccan state for them, as was promised.

    The current bunch of terrorists (like the guy killing Van Gogh), or the people fighting for ISIS are Moroccan immigrants, second or third generation. Morocco was never a Dutch colony.

    Also, walking from Africa to Europe means going along the eastern side of the Black sea. That is a long way, across inhospitable terrain. Much easier taking some ship across the Mediterranian.

  13. Joy

    Tell it like it is Sander.
    “Give me your tired, your poor, huddled masses,
    Yearning to breathe free!” Really?

    It is geography, full stop. Forget the current fad about neocon or not.
    Of course war leaves a legacy but thinking that’s it is naive.

    Old colonies and Empires! Indeed, that old chestnut. It works as long as the recipient is prepared to swallow it. That game’s coming to an end.

    In a world which thinks borders don’t count and a world with an ever growing number of muslims it is absurd not to acknowledge the threat. Did nine eleven mean nothing? Just a one off?

    Geography is the prime factor. Followed only a close second by reproduction rates with opportunist aggression coming in here and there and certainly for the end game. That’s how it works. It will not prevail but it will cause more bloodshed and more redistribution of land amongst people. In short it works like a slow motion invasion.

    That is what is on the cards for every nation which gives way to Islam.
    The various sectarian groups within the faith, the in-house fighting is where the West has been capitalising and meddling on the divide and rule idea but do not be so complacent.

    Wise people have been saying this since I was little.
    The only and I mean the only reason nothing was done about this was the false notion of political correctness and the idea of multiculturalism being ‘fair’ and those who pushed this were never in the majority.
    Fear of being called ‘ist’ or ‘obic’ or ‘otic’ is what stops people speaking about this which is the factor that allows the time required to pull the thing off.
    The old colony guilt card helps the enemy. So no thanks to all the so called allies who believe the propaganda and help propagate it. They are just serving their own master.

    It works until people are braver in what they say, rather than saving it for private conversations, which is slowly happening, has been here, since nine eleven in a tangible way. There a lot of very angry people of all ages across Europe. Governments are fully aware of this, nobody is ill informed who need be informed. Good for Trump he is well informed too, and not a coward.

  14. Sander,

    Not sure what the point is.

    The Dutch are now carrying out attacks in Iraq, Syria, and other places, in support of the never-ending war. As I said, “This causes massive antagonism towards NATO/EU/USA among these groups’ supporters… And the results are: those with sympathy for, or ties to, the victims of attacks…strike out at the NATO states bombing their compadres.”

    The details of Holland’s hundreds of years of colonial power are not important (in the grand scheme of this issue). Just that Holland, like many other European powers, made the mistake of meddling in Muslim countries for a long, long time, and then allowed unassimilated immigration by people who have affinity to those now bombed by Dutch warplanes.

    The original point is: Internal acts of terrorism in Europe are not the vanguard of an Islamic imperial power. They are the results of self-abasing destruction of traditional culture, combined with unassimilated immigration.

    No more than attacks in the USA by MS13 or BLM are the vanguard of a Papist imperial invasion, or a Congolese emperor’s ambitions.

  15. Fen Tiger

    Jim Fedako said:- “great” only exists in the minds of Joy and her backward looking generation.

    I’ll assume that Jim doesn’t know that the Great in Great Britain is a standard English & French usage, often used in place names (e.g. Great Dunmow and Little Dunmow). Odd, in a native speaker, not to know that.

    Anyway, in French the island of Britain is Bretagne, and Brittany (that’s a region in France, Jim) is also Bretagne. So, in French (and that was the language of diplomacy, Jim), Grande Bretagne is the island and Bretagne is the region.

    So, Jim, you can stable your high horse.

  16. Alberain

    We must become the barbarians who conquer our own societies.

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