Edward Gibbon catches Rome close to its apex in the second volume of his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

A people elated by pride, or soured by discontent, is seldom qualified to form a just estimate of their actual situation. The subjects of Constantine were incapable of discerning the decline of genius and manly virtue, which so far degraded them below the dignity of their ancestors; but they could feel and lament the rage of tyranny, the relaxation of discipline, and the increase of taxes. The impartial historian, who acknowledges the justice of their complaints, will observe some favourable circumstances which tended to alleviate the misery of their condition. The threatening tempest of barbarians, which so soon subverted the foundations of Roman greatness, was still repelled, or suspended, on the frontiers. The arts of luxury and literature were cultivated, and the elegant pleasures of society were enjoyed, by the inhabitants of a considerable portion of the globe. The forms, the pomp, and the expense of the civil administration contributed to restrain the irregular licence of the soldiers; and although the laws were violated by power, or perverted by subtlety, the sage principles of Roman jurisprudence preserved a sense of order and equity unknown to the despotic governments of the East.

And what, one wonders would Gibbon have made of the market reactions to the various blandishments of governments and central banks in recent days. We have in an instant recovered 10% of our value. The barbarian tempest is contained. Rudd, Paulson, Bush, Brown et al have thus far made no mention of genius or manly virtue. Maybe they should, before we enter volumes three to six…

Peter Fray

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