Lessons of the Rise and Fall of Nations, Empires and Civilizations

by Stephen Lampe

A Historical Overview

A striking historical phenomenon is that nations and empires come into being, thrive, become great in reality or relative to their contemporaries, and reach their climax of development. Then for a variety of reasons, they start to decline, some gradually, others rather rapidly, and eventually they fall. This is true of every age for which records are available. This pattern is of interest to us as history tends to repeat itself due to the unfortunate fact that we tend to ignore the lessons of history. At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union (which was basically the Russian Empire) collapsed and recent events in and outside the United States have given rise to speculations about its imperial ambitions as well as imminent fall.

The factors responsible for the fall of nations, empires, and civilizations are many and include, military, political, socio-economic, and related ones. Some ancient empires collapsed as a result of natural disasters (such as prolonged drought), overpopulation, environmental mismanagement, inadequate food production resulting from land degradation or crop pests and diseases. Some collapsed because their populations were decimated by disease epidemics. Other empires overreached themselves on account of greed. They kept trying to expand and constantly engaged in wars of aggression until they became exhausted and were defeated by enemies that were hitherto considered relatively powerless and inconsequential.

More commonly, nations and empires fell because they lost internal legitimacy on account of corrupt, decadent or oppressive leadership. Once internal cohesion was lost, patriotism and the national fighting spirit weakened and they became vulnerable to external forces which they had in the past been able to resist. For example, the last years of the Roman Empire were characterized by debauchery and cruelty as well as oppressive economic measures. It often had to resort to the use of foreign mercenaries to fight its wars, as those who thought the empire was worth dying for became fewer and fewer.

It was often the case that ancient civilizations were destroyed by outsiders — nomadic invaders and the co-called barbarians — invasions which they had been able to beat off in the past. This phenomenon is described by historians as "The Barbarians at the Gate" syndrome. But the process was always one of a weakening of the civilization caused by immorality, deliberate injustices, despotic leadership, complacency and standstill, or a lack of struggle for further development. Once weakened morally and/or militarily, external invasions became the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

First Lesson: No Condition is Permanent

One obvious lesson of the facts of history with respect to the rise and fall of great nations and empires is aptly captured in a saying that is popular in many parts of the world: “No condition is permanent”. This means, for example, that nations that are poor and weak today can become rich and great tomorrow, and the great ones must count on the possibility of falling.

The observation that no condition is permanent derives its validity from a fundamental mechanism in Creation: the Law of Movement. There is unceasing activity everywhere we look including within our own physical bodies. Even in our sleep, activity does not cease: our hearts continue to beat, our blood flows, our lungs breathe, our stomachs digest, our brains continue to work. Even dead bodies and solid rocks are theatres of activity. This is because they are composed of atoms built of electrons, protons, neutrons, etc. which are in perpetual movement; a movement which gives rise to a variety of measurable radiations. The earth is in perpetual rotation and revolving around the sun. The sun and billions of other stars are perpetually moving along prescribed paths at incredible speeds. The cosmos as a whole is ceaselessly moving. These various movements are not chaotic but follow patterns ordained by the forces at work throughout Creation; forces that adapt themselves and are adapted to natural laws that are as yet only partially understood by science.

The Law of Movement, like all natural laws, apply to all creatures, including individual human beings as well as groups of human beings. Thus, nations, empires, as well as whole civilizations are subject to the Law of Movement. This has implications and lessons for individuals, for small and large communities, as well as for nations and empires, great or small. A nation that ceases to respect the Law of Movement is bound to fall. Disregard of the Law of Movement may manifest in several forms, including rigidity and failure to adapt to internal and external changes, adoption of indolent life-styles, an attitude of complacency, and giving up the necessary struggle for continuous progress and improvement, materially, morally, ands spiritually.

Second Lesson: Cycles in Creation

The coming into being of nations, their rising to power, their subsequent decline and fall reminds one of other commonly observed patterns and rhythms in the world. For example, a plant emerges from the soil, initially grows rapidly, its growth reaches a peak, and it eventually dies. A baby is born, it grows and matures, its physical development reaches a peak in less than three decades, and after a while, the body’s performance begins to decline, and the body eventually dies. We note that both in the case of the plant and of the human body, the cycle may be repeated through reproduction. The plant, for example, may produce seeds, which in turn produce new plants that undergo the same cycle of growth, blossoming, fructification, and death – resulting in a potentially unending cycle.

These patterns are manifestations of another fundamental principle: The Law of the Cycle. This Law, also called the Law of Revolution, ensures that, in the world of matter, whatever has a beginning has an end and that the end always flows back into the beginning. There is an eternal forming, a joining together of basic materials which, after a certain time, again dissolve into their original components in order thereafter, purified and refreshed, to unite anew in other forms. An important practical fact for each individual is that our thoughts and our deeds also obey the Law of the Cycle. Thoughts and deeds take on form (which are invisible to most people) and in the course of their cycles, they gain strength through attraction of similar kinds. Whether they are good or bad, they eventually return to the individual, who is their point of origin, in order to complete their cycles. The process is the same for groups of individuals, such as ethnic groups as well as for nations and empires. Obviously, good thoughts and good deeds on completion of their cycles would have salutary effects and enhance the well-being of the individual who originated them. In this we note the interconnection between the Law of the Cycle and the Law of Sowing and Reaping.

At the end of an earth-life, the spirit of an individual who lived in accordance with the Laws of Creation would advance to a higher cycle of experiencing, which may or may not necessitate a subsequent reincarnation on earth. Therefore, we may infer from this process that if great nations and empires constantly engaged in good deeds and were always imbued with good volitions, constantly adapting to the Laws of Creation, they would be continually refreshed and strengthened. They would continue to blossom and thrive from one cycle to the next, rising to ever higher levels of material and spiritual culture. Doom and grief would not be their inevitable end, as has historically been the case.

Whole universes and, indeed, the entire material Creation, are subject to the Law of the Cycle. The earth had a beginning and, in obedience to this Law, it will some day come to an end in the form in which we know it. Throughout history as well as in relatively recent times, some self-proclaimed prophets have predicted an imminent end of the world; imminent in the sense of a few decades. Some such "prophets" even gave specific dates; many such dates have long since passed. They were all wrong. The truth is that the promise of the Millennium (the thousand‑year reign of the Will of God on earth) must first be fulfilled; therefore, we can count on the earth’s continued existence for at least the next 1,000 years or so. However, in the course of the big (or very long) cycle, shorter cycles do occur. Each such short cycle may be considered a phase and each phase may have its peculiar characteristics. Thus, the earth has witnessed many different ages. There is always a transitional period or “Turning Point” from one phase (or age) to the next. On planets, such as the earth on which human spirits reside, new knowledge necessary for the next phase is always provided through special messengers of God.

The Coming Civilization

What we are witnessing today is a “Turning Point”; a transition from one phase of human existence on earth to a higher, much more spiritual phase. Specifically, the world of matter including the earth is being purified in preparation for the promised Millennium. The purification will bring to an end this era of human civilization. In the context of this discussion, one can say that we are witnessing the fall of our materialistic civilization and a gradual rising of a spiritual one. It can also be said that we live in a period of transition between a dying civilization and the birth of a new one. The Millennium, characterized by strict adherence to the true Will of God, will develop on the ashes of our current perverted, overly materialistic civilization.

The severe events of the purification and the greater outpouring of spiritual power into our world compel adherence to the Laws of Creation, which are manifestations of the Will of God. Whatever will not bend to God’s Will must break, whether individuals or nations, whether they be weak or powerful. While the purification rages on, man is also permitted new spiritual knowledge; the knowledge he needs for the Millennium, including clarity about the Will of God. In our time such knowledge is presented to us in the three-volume work “In the Light of Truth”, The Grail Message. Moreover, on account of the increased spiritual power on earth, there is a general acceleration of events, which has multifarious implications. One of the implications is that unjust nations, empires or civilizations cannot endure for as long a period as was possible in the past.

The Elliott Wave Principle

A remarkable fact is that the idea of a passing age and of a turning point for humanity is no longer an exclusive belief of the religions and of those interested in spiritual matters. Observations from many disciplines are leading to the same conclusion. As an example, I will cite research based on the Elliott Wave Principle discovered in the late 1920s by Ralph Nelson Elliott. Elliott observed that stock markets do not behave in a chaotic manner, but that markets move in repetitive cycles, which reflect the actions and emotions of humans caused by exterior influences or mass psychology. He contended that the ebb and flow of mass psychology always revealed itself in the same repetitive patterns, which subdivide in waves (or cycles) of varying lengths of time, from very short to relatively large. Elliott was in effect saying that stock markets function according to the Law of the Cycle. The Elliott Wave principle has since become big business among professional financial market analysts and there are many books and Internet sites on the principle and its application in stock market trading.

The point here is not to alert you to a technique for making money. Rather, I wish to call your attention to a recent extension of the Elliott Principle that has important implications for an understanding of the nature of our times. Three men, Joseph M. Miller, Daan Joubert, and Marion Butler, applied the Elliot Wave Principle to study the rise and fall of civilizations during the past 12,000 years. They found that civilizations conform to the Elliott Wave Principle. The longest wave they identified lasted about 10,000 years, which they called “a Grand Super Cycle”. But within the Grand Super Cycle, there were many waves of varying lengths. The wave which the authors considered the most important was one of approximately 1,000 years, which they called an “X Wave”. The results of their research are published in several documents posted on the Internet, including a series of three reports published in December 2001.

Of special interest was their finding that in the period between 1998 and 2001, both a Grand Super Cycle and an “X Wave” were coming to an end. In other words, two highly significant cycles of different lengths were coming to a simultaneous close. Their major conclusion was that, if history were to repeat itself, a correction of 1,000–year bull market (X Wave) would require a correction wave (a period of decline) lasting up to 100 years. In other words, we should expect human and economic activity to decline by a very large degree during most of the current 21st century. This, they remark, is contrary to the expectations of most people who believe that the 21st century will be a period of economic expansion with living conditions becoming better and better with time. The results convince them that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the United States “can certainly be considered the modern equivalent of the historical accounts of ‘Barbarians at the Gate’ of previous civilizations prior to their decline.”

That is, according to the authors, the events of September 11, 2001 were even more significant than people thought in that it marked the beginning of the end of Western Civilization. It is not clear why the authors think it is the whole Western Civilization that is in trouble and not just the United States of America, which was the target of the attacks. However, they may well be correct, given the fact that the ongoing spiritual purification is a comprehensive process encompassing all countries and peoples of the world. No person, no place is exempt from what is in effect the “World Judgment”.

Concluding Remarks

Robert Briffault (1876-1940) was a truly remarkable man. At the age of eighteen, he received the degrees of Bachelor of Medicine and of Surgery in London. He practised in New Zealand and published medical articles. He served during the First World War and  was twice awarded the Military Cross for conspicuous bravery. After the war, he returned to England, retired from medical practice, and pursued interests in anthropology and sociology. He wrote both fiction and nonfiction books, including one entitled “The Making of Humanity” published in 1919. In the course of a discussion of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire in the book, Briffault stated:

“No system of human organization that is false in its very principle, in its very foundation, can save itself by any amount of cleverness and efficiency in the means by which that falsehood is carried out and maintained by any amount of superficial adjustment and tinkering. It is doomed root and branch as long as the root remains what it is.”

In his 1920 book, “The Transformation of Democracy”, an outstanding Italian economist, political and social thinker, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) argued that European democracies of the time (many of which were colonial powers) were more and more been transformed into plutocracies (government by the wealthy). He stated that the deception and corruption associated with plutocratic rule would eventually produce a reaction and lead to the system’s downfall. Paraphrasing Pareto’s ideas expressed in the book, James Alexander stated:

When a society's system of values deteriorates to the point where hard work is denigrated and "easy money" extolled, where honesty is mocked and duplicity celebrated, where authority gives way to anarchy and justice to legal chicanery, such a society stands face to face with ruin.”

This is another truism which summarizes a root cause of the fall of great nations and empires. A society based on false principles inevitably disintegrates.

Rene Guenon (1886-1951), a Frenchman, spent the last 20 years of his life in Egypt doing comparative studies of religions, spirituality, and philosophy and wrote extensively on these subjects. His writings have been described as containing some of the most profound and enduring analyses of the modern world. In his 1927 book, The Crisis of the Modern World, he wrote:

“Modern civilization has gone downwards step by step until it has ended by sinking to the lowest elements in man and aiming at little more than the satisfaction of the needs inherent in the material side of his nature, an aim which is, in any case, illusory as it constantly creates more artificial needs than it can satisfy…Not only have they limited their intellectual ambition to inventing and constructing machines, but they have ended by becoming in actual fact, machines themselves. The inventions whose number is at present growing at an ever increasing rate, are all the more dangerous in that they bring into play forces whose real nature is quite unknown to the men who utilize them.”

These words are even truer today than they were when they were written nearly 80 years ago. And therein lies the germ of the disease that must lead to the fall of our present civilization. I will conclude with a quotation from the work “In the Light of Truth”, The Grail Message:

“… there is failure everywhere today! A picture of desolate confusion and much distress wherever one looks! And on top of this pile of ruins there stands, hollow and puffed up with pride, the author of all this wild confusion … “modern man” as he most of all likes to describe himself! The “progressive” who in reality has constantly retrogressed! The man who also calls himself a “sober materialist”, expecting to be admired for it!

To this must now be added the many schisms and the ever-increasing hatred for one another, despite the uniformity of their voluntary enslavement! The cause lies neither with employer nor employee, neither with capital nor lack of it, nor is it due to the church or the state, or to the different nations, but it is only the wrong attitude of each individual which has brought about the present state of affairs.

Even the so-called seekers for the Truth are now seldom on the right road! Nine-tenths of them turn into nothing but Pharisees who look arrogantly down upon their fellow-men and criticize them, while at the same time quarreling among themselves! Everything is wrong! First of all there must come the inevitable fulfillment of a dreadful end before some few can awaken out of their sleep!

As yet it is still possible for everyone to turn back! But soon and at last there will come a too late for all time…”

(From Volume II, Lecture 66)