Noble gentlemen and ladies in [Japan’s] Heian period (794-1185) were often remarkably promiscuous. … “Heian society was on the whole governed by style rather than by any moral principles, and good looks tended to take the place of virtue.” … It was, as all this suggests, a rather effete culture. The aristocratic ideal of male beauty—highly perfumed, moon-faced, smooth-skinned, extravagantly dressed—was close to the feminine ideal. A distinct air of decadence during the peak of the Heian period also suggests the approaching end of a regime, a world, in Genji’s words, “where everything seems to be in a state of decline.”
I have a different theory: that altruism survives in small endogamous groups, but in larger population centers the prevalence of selfish behavior increases. Power centers go through cycles of rise and decay in response to the degree of unity and altruism in the dominant group. The longer a group stays in power, the larger it becomes and the more it attracts selfish climbers. Once the decay collapses the power center, there is space for a new smaller -- but more altruistic and therefore more powerful -- group to take its place.
This idea works whether you see group cohesion as genetically or as culturally determined. More directly, size can weaken the ethnic bonds between group members, and the lack of the need to gain power can subvert relevant virtues.
It was, as all this suggests, a rather effete culture. The aristocratic ideal of male beauty—highly perfumed, moon-faced, smooth-skinned, extravagantly dressed—was close to the feminine ideal.
Does the author really mean "effete?" Heian society might very well have been effete, but that is hardly clear from the passage cited. Instead, it sounds like the author meant to say "effeminate." Big difference.
Ostentation is only part of the traditional picture of decadence. There's also a breakdown in (public) adherence to moral codes. Maybe status competition via ostentation replaces competition via displays of morality.
There also seems to be a component of declining social trust in decadent periods. More corruption, more taking private advantage, more zero-sum thinking.
Let's define decadence as status seeking behavior undertaken in times of increased prosperity and surplus: ostentatious displays of wealth, societal forms and practices created explicitly outside of norms to show wealth and status. Such behaviors become self-reinforcing, no one who does not conform to them is taken seriously. As time goes on for whatever reason the surplus diminishes. The ostentatious displays that once were executed out of the surplus now begin to eat into the principal. The society has become less flexible as more resources are required to be committed by it's elites towards social display then in previous eras. This doesn't ensure the decline of the society, but it certainly acts as an anchor around it's neck.
Note.. the decadent behaviors probably come in huge variety. From the elaborate ritual of the Sun King's court, to the notion that a true gentleman doesn't work in Britain
Well, it certainly represents mal-investment in Austrian economic terms.
The Heian aristocracy wasn't lazy. It appears to have been hardworking: in plots, status signaling, and style. What made it decadent is the divorce between the concerns of the elite and real productive activity.
For the present, one could point to the fleecing of their customers by the financial elite before the crash and the funneling of the brightest students into nonproductive financial occupations. If the next election is a faceoff between the Bush and Clinton dynasties, that would be a different kind of symptom of decay. And then we have a mass underclass that is fed food-stamp bread and entertained by reality-tv circuses.
I'm not sure what is meant by "decadence", as it is a grossly overused word. The only definition of decadence that makes sense to be would be a general lack of work and entrepreneurial ethic with a lack of persistence and perseverance in productive accomplishment.
Can a society that has the "silicon valley" phenomenon and an emphasis on technological innovation and entrepreneurial ethic be considered "decadent"? It would seem to me that a society would be decadent if it lacked these traits.
200 years is hardly such a short time as to infer causation here. If it takes 200 years of debauchery starting now to have Samurais take over, I'm sure most people would agree to start the party if asked casually.
Ibn Khaldun's argument 700 years ago was that political downfall was caused by the ruling group splintering and backstabbing each other, allowing a poorer but unified outlander tribe to conquer.
There is likely a circularity problem here.
Part of why certain behaviors are labeled "decadent" is that they are perceived to not be conducive to the long term health/sustainability of the group, institution etc in which they take place. So, they will be correlated with decline by definition.
Rome had a triple layered inequality problem: they had slaves, a lot of slaves, during most of their history only a minority of free men were given citizenship and among the citizens there quickly grew an insane level of hereditary economic inequality. Naturally there weren't many volunteers to risk their lives manning the borders at the end... And half of them were busy fighting private civil wars between members of the plutocracy.
Succession plan or not, the Mongol Empire would have torn itself apart anyway. Too many big egoes with big armies separated by big distances... and that's always the problem with vast empires.
IMHO most empires fall because of plagues, invasions, uprisings and civil wars. The most important things when running an empire seem to be to take good care of your people and your allies as well as having a system of government that's not based on kinship or being the victorious general in a civil war.
When reading historical sources you also have to guard against the biases of the original writers who may have come from a culture that likes to blame disaster on decadence.
* excuse bad wording, first post was expecting an edit button
I think empires fall when the internal cultures fragments one part of the empire won't pull a hair for another part. That can be one class for another, one territory for another, or one ethnicity for another. The power structures fragment, and it can no longer coordinate to address problems or external threats. In the case of Rome, my theory is that the seeds of that were sown considerably earlier (with the decline of the republic), but an empire of that size and strength has a lot of power and takes a long long time to decline. (link - https://citizensearth.wordp...
Decadance can play a part in that (poor morals don't make for duty inspired citizens), but I think its somewhat orthagonal to the core issue of fragmentation.
That's not an accurate description of Chinese history. Of the empires, only the Yuan dynasty was created by foreign conquest. The Manchus were foreign, but the Ming had already pretty much collapsed by the time they came in. The Qin, Han, Sui, Tang, Song, and Ming dynasties were all created by Chinese forces.