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The Course of Empire

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posted on Mar, 28 2010 @ 11:04 AM
Although a cliché - a picture being worth a thousand words - very much applies the following five brilliant masterpieces painted by Thomas Cole in the 1830s. Thousands of books and essays have been written on the rise and fall of empires, yet no book could possibly illustrate that scenario as clearly as these paintings do. It is the perfect metaphor of an empire's life cycle. Specifically, the series of paintings depicts the growth and fall of a fictional city in a way very similar to to the way the United States of America has evolved and the downwards direction it is heading.

Niall Ferguson, professor of History at Harvard University and specialized in financial and economic history explains how many civilizations share a sharp curve of decline and that a society's demise ''may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth and power." He claims that an imperial collapse may come much more suddenly than many historians imagine.'' A combination of fiscal deficits and military overstretch suggests that the United States may be the next empire on the precipice. Yes, America is on the edge.''

Throughout history imperial leaders inevitably emerge and drive their nations into wars for greater glory and "economic progress," while inevitably leading their nation into collapse. And that happens suddenly and swiftly, within "a decade or two."

Be it the British or the Dutch empire, Napoleon's or the Roman empire - the above described parallel is very distinctive for the fall of past empires.

Hereunder you will find the series of paintings and the short explanations of professor Ferguson from his latest work, "Collapse and Complexity: Empires on the Edge of Chaos," in Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council of Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank. His message negates all the happy talk you're hearing in today's news -- about economic recovery and new bull markets, about "hope," about a return to "American greatness" -- from Washington politicians and Wall Street bankers.

I found the following quote from his explanation very much applicable and recognizable to the stage of the life cycle that I believe we are at. Wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran), greed (bankers), corruption (politicians) are peaking at a period of relative wealth:

'The Consummation of Empire' focuses us on Ferguson's core message: At the very peak of their power, affluence and glory, leaders arise, run amok with imperial visions and sabotage themselves, their people and their nation. They have it all.

But more-is-not enough as greed, arrogance and a thirst for power consume them. "Most great nations, at the peak of their economic power, become arrogant and wage great world wars at great cost, wasting vast resources, taking on huge debt, and ultimately burning themselves out."

I've included a time line, that I consider to fit the the situation of the US, which is arguable.

I - The Savage State (Until 1492, the pre-colonial era.

"In the first, 'The Savage State,' a lush wilderness is populated by a handful of hunter-gatherers eking out a primitive existence at the break of a stormy dawn." Imagine our history from Columbus' discovery of America in 1492 on through four more centuries as we savagely expanded across the continent.

II -The Arcadian or Pastoral State (1783 - 1945: Post Colonialism era)

"The second picture, 'The Arcadian or Pastoral State,' is of an agrarian idyll: the inhabitants have cleared the trees, planted fields, and built an elegant Greek temple." The temple may seem out of place. However, Cole's paintings were done in 1833-1836, not long after Thomas Jefferson built the University of Virginia using classical Greek and Roman revival architecture.

As Ferguson continues the tour you sense you're actually inside the New York Historical Society, visually reminded of how history's great cycles do indeed repeat over and over. You are also reminded of one of history's great tragic ironies -- that all nations fail to learn the lessons of history, that all nations and their leaders fall prey to their own narcissistic hubris and that all eventually collapse from within.

III - The Consummation of Empire (1945 - 2000: post World War era)

"The third and largest of the paintings is 'The Consummation of Empire.' Now, the landscape is covered by a magnificent marble entrepôt, and the contented farmer-philosophers of the previous tableau have been replaced by a throng of opulently clad merchants, proconsuls and citizen-consumers. It is midday in the life cycle."

But more-is-not enough as greed, arrogance and a thirst for power consume them. Back in the early days of the Iraq war, Kevin Phillips, political historian and former Nixon strategist, also captured this inevitable tendency in Wealth and Democracy:

"Most great nations, at the peak of their economic power, become arrogant and wage great world wars at great cost, wasting vast resources, taking on huge debt, and ultimately burning themselves out." We sense the "consummation" of the American Empire occurred with the leadership handoff from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush.

Unfortunately that peak is behind us: Clinton, Bush, Henry Paulson, Ben Bernanke, Sarah Palin, Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and all future American leaders are merely playing their parts in the greatest of all historical dramas, repeating but never fully grasping the lessons of history in their insatiable drive for "economic progress," to recapture former glory ... while unwittingly pushing our empire to the edge, into collapse.

IV - The Destruction of Empire (2001 - 2025?)

Then comes 'The Destruction of Empire,' the fourth stage in Ferguson's grand drama about the life-cycle of all empires. In "Destruction" "the city is ablaze, its citizens fleeing an invading horde that rapes and pillages beneath a brooding evening sky." Elsewhere in "The War of the World," Ferguson described the 20th century as "the bloodiest in history, one hundred years of butchery." Today's high-tech relentless news cycle, suggests that our 21st century world is a far bloodier return to savagery.

At this point, investors are asking themselves: How can I prepare for the destruction and collapse of the American Empire? There is no solution in the Cole-Ferguson scenario, only an acceptance of fate, of destiny, of history's inevitable cycles.

V - Desolation

"Finally, the moon rises over the fifth painting, 'Desolation,'" says Ferguson. There is not a living soul to be seen, only a few decaying columns and colonnades overgrown by briars and ivy." No attacking "brigands?" No loveable waste-collecting robots from Wall-E?

The good news is the Earth will naturally regenerate itself without savage humans, as we saw in Alan Weisman's brilliant "The World Without Us:" Steel buildings decay. Microbes eat indestructible plastics. Eons pass. And Earth reemerges in all its glory, a Garden of Eden.

In my belief we have reached the The Destruction of Empire stage of the life cycle. Ferguson goes on to say that a swift collapse might be a very plausible possibility, in contrast to very slow and gradual collapse? ''What if collapse does not arrive over a number of centuries but comes suddenly, like a thief in the night?" What if the collapse of the American Empire is dead ahead, in the next decade? What if, as with the 2000 dot-com crash, we're in denial, refusing to prepare?''

'All Empires ... are condemned to decline and fall'

Great powers, like great men, are born, rise, reign and then gradually wane. No matter whether civilizations decline culturally, economically or ecologically, their downfalls are protracted."

We are deceiving ourselves, convinced "the challenges that face the United States are often represented as slow-burning ... threats seem very remote."

Throughout history, empires function "in apparent equilibrium for some unknowable period. And then, quite abruptly ... collapse," a blunt reminder of the sudden, swift, silent, certain timetable in Diamond's "Collapse" where a "society's demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth and power."

You are forewarned: If the peak of America's glory was the leadership handoff from Clinton to Bush, then we have already triggered the countdown to collapse, the decade from 2010 until 2020 ... tick ... tick ... tick ...


[edit on 28-3-2010 by Mdv2]

posted on Mar, 28 2010 @ 12:07 PM
Nice thread. I think you're dead on. America is already dead in so many ways, and quickly decaying in others. Our artistic culture is utterly retarded. The music is horrible, the art & architecture is lame, and people's values in general have become disgusting from my point of view. Society is crumbling. I don't think America will last another decade in it's current form. Economic collapse is a certainty on the path we're going, and I see it coming sooner than later. What comes out of the ruble won't be pretty, so I plan on leaving shortly after the collapse.

S & F

posted on Mar, 29 2010 @ 02:56 AM
reply to post by unityemissions

Thanks. There are plenty of signs that a collapse is inevitable. Ferguson suggests to buy a farm in the mountains. Whether you should do that, I don't know, but the fact that the world's wealthiest have bought properties in South-America (Bush in Paraguay and the Dutch Royal House in Patagonia, Argentina) tells me that something really nasty is about to unfold. Why would Bush buy a huge ranch (100000 acre) in Paraguay - it doesn't a logical destination if it would be for the pleasure purpose only. Besides, he has a ranch in Texas, making it very weird that he buys a second ranch instead of a nice villa.

Obviously, they are pretending it is all gonna be fine, but our capitalist system is unsustainable and has come to a point at which it is rotten to the bone. I believe that particularly the heart of capitalism - America - is going to have a very rough time. I, for one, wouldn't want to be in the middle of Manhattan when SHTF.

posted on Mar, 29 2010 @ 09:31 AM
reply to post by Mdv2

Funny you should mention Argentina. My first choice to immigrate to Buenos Aires in Argentina. They already went through collapse in 2001 and the currency has been devalued. It's still very cheap to live in this beautiful city, but inflation is rampant at ~3% per month. The goal is to save enough silver to live there studying Spanish for a solid year without having to worry about employment. Then I plan on getting a job as a teacher of English after I become fluent in Spanish.

I do think that if people are to stay in the U.S. that they should acquire land, non-GM seeds, farming equipment, guns & ammo, etc..

posted on Mar, 29 2010 @ 10:43 AM
I am glad the collection is still together and available to public viewing...

but NYC is a costly trip for myself, so i'll never eyeball & experience the awe of the Gallery collections..
I did make it a point to walk the National Gallery several times when i was an activist-hippy up in DC...WoW

[edit on 29-3-2010 by St Udio]

posted on Mar, 29 2010 @ 11:52 AM
Very nice thread, and very appropriate for the times we are living in today. We have seen Empires fall in our own lifetimes, Mother Russia is a good example of this. The American Empire is also crumbling under it's own weight right now. Star and Flag, good post

posted on Jun, 1 2010 @ 09:17 AM
To my surprise, the author of the financial commentary of these paintings, Harvard professor Niall Laurence Ferguson is one of the attendees at the Bilderberg conference in Spain this week.


posted on Jun, 1 2010 @ 10:34 AM
reply to post by Mdv2

Maybe that's because the builderbergers aren't the evil super-group people make them out to be, rather just a bunch of enlightened and influential intellectuals.

posted on Jun, 1 2010 @ 10:45 AM
Great thread. I do like these pictures. However, the model doesn't fit the British empire. It didn't collapse due to arrogance, decadence, wars, etc. It collapsed because of WW2 and the rising independence movement.

I suppose you could say that America is a continuation of the British empire. In the far distant future, historians will probably say that.

Also, I suppose we could say that the British empire was defeated by a greater power--America.

IMO, America, under Roosevelt destroyed the British empire with debt, funding the British war effort in return for the sapping of its power. The UK only recently finished paying off its war debts, while Stalin stopped paying in something like 1946.

Another possible interpretation is that the wealthy of the UK / USA are the same, and lend-lease was a ruse to extract wealth from the British people, just as Iraq etc is a method of extracting wealth from the American people. But I digress.

I will add that I think the theory is wrong. Desolation does not arrive. There are still people. Wealth does not vanish. It displaces. It's a pretty picture, but it is idealized and romantic, just like the pictures.

[edit on 1-6-2010 by rizla]

posted on Dec, 6 2010 @ 08:11 AM
edit: wrong thread
edit on 6-12-2010 by Mdv2 because: (no reason given)


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