The Collapse of Antiquity: Greece and Rome as Civilization’s Oligarchic Turning Point
The Collapse of Antiquity, the sequel to Michael Hudson’s “…and forgive them their debts,” is the latest in his trilogy on the history of debt. It describes how the dynamics of interest-bearing debt led to the rise of rentier oligarchies in classical Greece and Rome. This caused economic polarization, widespread austerity, revolts, wars and ultimately the collapse of Rome into serfdom and feudalism. That collapse bequeathed to the subsequent Western civilization a pro-creditor legal philosophy that has led to today’s creditor oligarchies.
In telling this story, The Collapse of Antiquity reveals the eerie parallels between the collapsing Roman world and today’s debt-burdened Western economies.
“In this monumental work, Michael Hudson overturns what most of us were taught about Athens and Sparta, Greece and Rome, Caesar and Cicero, indeed about kings and republics. He exposes the roots of modern debt peonage and crises in the greed and violence of antiquity’s oligarch-creditors, embedded in their laws, which in the end destroyed the civilizations of classical antiquity.”
James K. Galbraith, author of Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe.
“In this fascinating book, Hudson explores the rise of the predatory rentier oligarchies of classical Greece and Rome. He makes a fascinating and persuasive case that the trap of debt led to the destruction of the peasantry, the states and ultimately even these civilizations.”
Martin Wolf, Chief Economics Commentator, Financial Times.
“Michael Hudson is an old school, 19th-century classical economist who puts fact before theory. To read his new book, The Collapse of Antiquity, is to learn why and how it has come to pass that we live in a world in which the money owns the people, not the people who own the money. The clarity of Hudson’s thought is like water in a desert, his history lesson therefore a sad story that is a joy to read.”
Lewis Lapham, editor of Lapham’s Quarterly.
The Collapse of Antiquity is vast in its sweep, covering:
- the transmission of interest-bearing debt from the Ancient Near East to the Mediterranean world, but without the “safety valve” of periodic royal Clean Slate debt cancellations to restore economic balance and prevent the emergence of creditor oligarchies;
- the rise of creditor and landholding oligarchies in classical Greece and Rome;
- classical antiquity’s debt crises and revolts, and the suppression, assassination and ultimate failure of reformers;
- the role played by greed, money-lust (wealth-addiction) and hubris, as analysed by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and other ancient writers;
- Rome’s “End Time” collapse into serfdom and pro-creditor oligarchic legacy that continues to shape the West;
- the transformation of Christianity as it became Rome’s state religion, supporting the oligarchy, dropping the revolutionary early Christian calls for debt cancellation and changing the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer and “sin,” from a focus on the economic sphere to the personal sphere of individual egotism;
- how pro-creditor ideology distorts recent economic interpretations of antiquity, showing increasing sympathy with Rome’s oligarchic policies.
Rome’s collapse was the forerunner of the debt crises, economic polarization and austerity caused by subsequent Western oligarchies. The West’s pro-creditor laws and ideology inherited from Rome make inevitable repeated debt crises, transferring control of property and government to financial oligarchies.
Classical antiquity’s great transition to the modern world lay in replacing kingship not with democracies but with oligarchies having a pro-creditor legal philosophy. That philosophy permits creditors to draw wealth, and thereby political power, into their own hands, without regard for restoring economic balance and long-term viability as occurred in the Ancient Near East through Clean Slates.
Rome’s legacy to subsequent Western civilization is thus the structure of creditor oligarchies, not democracy in the sense of social structures and policies promoting widespread prosperity.