“With what other voice, besides that of the orator, is history, witness of time, light of truth, life of memory, teacher of life, herald of antiquity, committed to immortality?” Perhaps inspired by this well-known quote from Cicerothe British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, explained a few days ago that: “the Roman Empire fell largely as a result of uncontrolled immigration” and that “the empire could no longer control its borders, people entered from the east and we entered a dark age that lasted a long time . The reason I say this is because it can happen again.”
These explanations have little of innocence, and a lot to do with the ‘brexit’. Lately all developed countries have economic problems, but food shortages only Britain. And understand exactly that by Great Britain, the island, not the entire United Kingdom, which includes Northern Ireland, which is within the Community Customs Union, and which, “surprisingly” is not having these shortage problems. In general, the ‘Brexit’ rhetoric has moved from what the UK would gain and save by not sending funds to Europe, to “we can handle it”.
The last card of ‘Brexit’ is immigration control. But it is precisely the lack of workers that is creating more problems in logistics and distribution. Many truck drivers from European Union countries no longer work in the United Kingdom, despite the fact that they have had to raise wages, precisely because of ‘Brexit’ and immigration controls. This is giving rise to inflation, and above all to wage increases that make inflation chronic. For this reason, in this critical situation, the first Central Bank that is considering raising interest rates is precisely the Bank of England.
Northern Ireland is within the Community Customs Union and surprisingly is not having these shortage problems
Although the British, even on an island, may not know how to control immigration, is it true that uncontrolled immigration was largely responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire? And could that happen again? Well, regarding the first question, there is a subtle difference with respect to Great Britain, or even, if you prefer it, Europe. If you are thinking of the barbarian invasions as the cause of the fall of the Roman Empire, then the reader is clear that they were armed invasions, something that has nothing to do with current immigration in Europe, controlled or not. Was Attila the scourge of God or an uncontrolled immigrant?
Of course, as the well-known historian Mary Beard, the current concept of immigrant was unknown to the Romans, who generally had porous borders. But also, what fell was the Western Roman Empire after a succession of military defeats, Byzantium continued to subsist for almost 1,000 more years. It is true that in recent centuries the Eastern Roman Empire was little more than a city, Constantinople, but at the time of Justinian, the Empire occupied much of the area of what the Roman Empire had been before the ‘fall’ in Rome. the 476.
In fact, Boris Johnson is following a thesis, according to current historians, outdated, that of the famous British historian of the eighteenth century, Edward Gibbon. This thesis of the Roman “decadence”, influenced in part by Christianity, is also the one that Issac Asimov moves to the future in the well-known science-fiction saga, Foundationespecially in the second novel of the Saga, Foundation and Empire.
But the defeats before the barbarians are largely for military reasons: the primacy of the armored cavalry over the infantry, which would last throughout the Middle Ages and would only recede from the 16th century with the beginning of the use of firearms. Probably the only Roman general who understood it was Warbringerthe great general of Justinianthe last of the imperials.
But even so, the last great Roman victory in the West, that of the Catalaunian Fields against the Huns, was carried out by barbarians, immigrants, based in the Empire, and commanded by a barbarian, Duke Aetius. Of course, an armed man on horseback is much more expensive to maintain than an infantryman. They are precisely those economic reasonsincluding epidemics and the lack of sufficient slave labor, which are behind the fall of rome and of the arrival of “darkness”, that is, in Boris Johnson’s terms, the Middle Ages.
It is precisely these economic reasons, including epidemics and the absence of sufficient slave labor, that are behind the fall of Rome.
On the other hand, even with military defeats, the Roman civilization was maintained until the Muslim expansion divided the Mediterranean Sea into two irreconcilable shores. The thesis of the Belgian historian of the last century Henri Pirene is that the prophet Mohammed has much more to do with the end of Roman civilization than the barbarians.
This thesis has also passed into science fiction, with titles such as uchronía Eternal Rome of Robert Silverbergor, above all, dunes of Frank Herbertone of the great novels about ecology, mysticism, geopolitics and Jihad.
By the way, the adaptation of the first part of the novel by Villeneuve is more than recommendable and very faithful to the novel. However, the Apple TV series based on Foundation departs largely from Asimov’s account. Some masterpieces of science fiction drink from the sources of history.
Anyway, Boris Johnson’s statements belong to the genre of science fiction, not the story. Neither the United Kingdom is an empire, like the Roman one, nor were immigrants invading the British Isles as the Roman legions did in their day, taking advantage of the freedom of movement of people within the European Union. And in all this, fortunately, the prevailing issues are not military ones.
In short, if the United Kingdom is entering a dark age, at least in its trade, it is not because of uncontrolled immigration from the East, but because of bad economic and social decisions, starting with ‘Brexit’.
That the prosperity of nations is in the work of its inhabitants, and that freedom of trade, and not tariff barriers and bureaucracy, bring progress and well-being, was said by another 18th-century Briton, the economist (and Customs commissioner) Scottish adam smith. Isolationism and trade restrictions have never been a success story. But that is not the story preached by the apostles of ‘Brexit’, nor of other processes of separation and rupture. The results are visible, on the shelves of supermarkets.
*** Francisco de la Torre Díaz is a tax inspector and an economist.