Lessons from Medieval Britain
Michael Wood of the BBC recently provided an overview of the fall of Rome and the decline of Britain over 1,500 years ago, with some very pertinent lessons for today:
…Edward Gibbon, in his great book Decline and Fall, famously blamed the collapse not only on the barbarians, but on Christianity. He thought it had undermined society with its focus on another, better world.
Modern historians, though, see it differently, and some of their ideas seem startlingly relevant to us now.
First was the widening gulf between the social classes, rich and poor. When rich and poor start to live completely different lives this leads (then as now) to the poor opting out of the state. All studies today show that society is happier when the gap between rich and poor is reduced.
Widen it and you affect the group ethos of society, and also the ability to get things done through tax.
In the Roman West real wealth lay more in land and property than in finance (though there were banks) – but in the 300s the big land-owning aristocrats who often had fantastic wealth, contributed much less money than they had in the past to defence and government.
That in turn led as it has today to a “credibility gap” between ordinary people and the bureaucrats and rich people at the top
Not surprisingly then, many people – especially religious groups – tried to opt out altogether…