Decline Is Not Inevitable

The American painter Thomas Cole’s series of paintings “The Course of Empire” depict an inevitable cycle of civilization developing until wealth leads to its decline and collapse. It’s based on the history of Rome and this text by Byron

There is the moral of all human tales;

‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past.
First freedom and then Glory – when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption – barbarism at last.
And History, with all her volumes vast,
Hath but one page…

Here are the paintings:

The Savage State:

The Arcadian or Pastoral State:

The Consummation:



Now here’s the kick. Thomas Cole painted these in the 1830’s – that’s right, back when de Tocqueville was writing Democracy in America. He saw coming decline in the riches and frontier morals of his day. He was wrong. Malignant Fortune may condemn individuals, but she does not condemn civilizations. Their fate rests in our hands.


About Pechorin

A Hero of Our Time
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2 Responses to Decline Is Not Inevitable

  1. Ellimist says:

    I suspect this won’t ever change unless something significant changes WRT human nature.

    I do wonder if our species will be able to survive the next thousand years of these cycles. Modern technology, especially weaponry, could make the destruction/desolation stages a lot more permanent.

  2. Pingback: Luxury, Slavery, and Decline | Pechorin

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