The eminent historian, Victor Davis Hanson, asked this question six months ago. You can read it for yourself here (and I highly recommend you do so): Are We the Byzantines? (victorhanson.com)
Hanson a well-known historian, is a Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. A full-time orchard and vineyard grower, he was born on his family’s farm, a farm which was in his family’s possession for five generations. In 1984 he began teaching at nearby CSU Fresno and initiated a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin.
Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 26 books, three of the most recent books include The Dying Citizen (2021), The Case for Trump (2019), and The Second World Wars (2017). His books on warfare in ancient Greece —The Western Way of War (1989), Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (1991), and A War Like No Other (2006)–place him in the top rank of modern academics.
His concern is basic: is America (and the West in general) at that stage of our development where the Byzantines were during the last decades of the Paleologian dynasty?
Consider what he writes about the empire in its latter stages:
“But the aging and dying empire battled more than the challenges of internal divisions, or an unforeseen but deadly pandemic and the empire’s disastrous responses to it.
“The last generations of Byzantines had inherited a global reputation and standard of living that they themselves no longer earned.
“They neglected their former civic values and fought endless battles over obscure religious texts, doctrines, and vocabulary.”
Contrast this picture of a dying empire with the steadfast virtue, fortitude and realism that epitomized Byzantium in its early days, indeed throughout most of its history:
“Generations of self-sacrifice ensured ample investment for infrastructure. Each generation inherited and improved on singular aqueducts and cisterns, sewer systems, and the most complex and formidable city fortifications in the world.
“Brilliant scientific advancement and engineering gave the empire advantages like swift galleys and flame throwers—an ancient precursor to napalm.
“The law reigned supreme for nearly a millennium after the emperor Justinian codified a prior thousand years of Roman jurisprudence.”
As an American, these words give me pause in that I can see the difference between America before and after the inception of the welfare state. There are of course differences between post Great Society America and Paleologian Byzantium, primarily in the fact that our population has grown significantly and America is still the primary destination for immigration in the world (Russia is the second largest target for immigration). Constantinople by contrast, had a population of only 50,000 when it fell to Mehmet II in 1453.
That said, while our population is growing, it is only because of massive (mostly illegal) immigration. Immigrants who have no concept of our foundational values and are proving incapable of assimilation. If anything, it is worse in Europe, where tens of thousands of refugees are doing what the Turks failed to do after the battles of Belgrade, Vienna and Lepanto, that is to convert Europe to Islam.
In this sense, we are like the Roman Empire in its latter days, a fact which was reflected in the diminished state of the once-mighty Roman army. The hordes of Visigoths who sought refuge behind the Roman limes first came as economic refugees, then squatters with no sense of loyalty to Rome. To be sure, while they did swell the ranks of the Roman army, they had no concept of Roman military discipline or civic virtue, and ultimately, no real loyalty to the state.
Things were so bad for the army in the West that when they met Attila’s hordes in A,D. 453 at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains, the king of the Huns told his army that they had nothing to fear from the Romans. Although the battle was fought to a standstill, it broke the back of the Empire in the West, which fell a generation later to those same Visigoths who had earlier sought refuge in the Empire.
As an Orthodox Christian, I have an additional concern: and that is that the Patriarchate of Constantinople has not learned its lessons from history. Back then, it had a staunch protector in the political sphere, which (at least), was Orthodox. It’s present patron in the West however, has nothing in common with Orthodoxy, being resolutely anti-Christian. Nevertheless, the Phanar continues to play Byzantine style games, pathetically pretending that it is still living in its heyday.
This is indeed ironic, in that during its ascendancy, Byzantium was known for its considerable (and successful) missionary efforts. Contrast this picture with what transpires today, when the Byzantine Church is trying to consolidate its power by actively restricting other Orthodox Churches. In actuality forcing a schism within Orthodoxy all at the behest of the demonic powers who rule in the West.
This is all too reminiscent of men who, if they cannot rule a nation, would rather rule over the ashes.
I’d say we live in interesting times.