"At the beginning of the 7th century, the Mediterranean world is in crisis. The pax romana is a distant memory. The invasions, epidemics and wars have undermined the economy, discredited the values of yesteryear and generalized the disarray. Everyone withdraws into the safety of their own community, behind their walls, under the aegis of local potentates. This general decline paves the way for millenarianism. (1)"
In times of upheaval I find it good practice to withdraw quietly in a room, reading a history book - far from raging viruses, be they biological or digital.
But while historical distance may put into perspective the issues of the day, it is not a sure recipe for Olympian calm. Because history abundantly shows that humankind is not that good at managing crises. So one still needs to comfort one self: we do are better equipped now, aren’t we – with our immense progress in science, in technology. And we do have collectively become more rational, haven’t we?
Taking the historical perspective, one also wonders about the future: what collective conclusions will we draw in due time? Which societal weaknesses will have been exposed? Which regimes will have proven to be better able to cope?
Will democratic market economies driven by economic self-interest turn out to be better or worse at managing a collective crisis than centrally planned autocracies?
Time will tell.
A bookish note:
- Pascal Dayez-Burgeon – “Byzance la Secrète” : one of the best books on Byzantium I have read – telling its story not only as an allegory on the tragedy & transience of power, but also showing the significance of its history, the enduring meaning of how it had organised and represented itself. Not just a vanquished empire, not just a lost civilisation without heirs, but a 1000 years story we can still engage with.
- Original French:
“Au début du VIIième siècle, le monde méditerranéen est en crise. La pax romana n’est plus qu’un souvenir. Les invasions, les épidémies et les guerres ont sapé l’économie, discrédité les valeurs d’antan et généralisé le désarroi. Chacun se calfeutre dans sa communauté, à l’abri de ses murailles, sous l’égide de potentats locaux. Ce repli généralisé est propice au millénarisme.”