Homework: Decline of Empires

Tonight for your homework, you need to carefully read and annotate the article “Decline and Fall of Empires.”  Once you’ve finished reading the article, please respond to the following discussion points:

Of the nine suggested causes of imperial decline, which do you think would have the most immediate consequences?  Which of the nine causes would have more gradual consequences?  Can you provide any historical examples from China– different from those already included in the article– which illustrate these points? 

What do you think of the author’s suggestion that “otherworldly or escapist religions” can be a cause of imperial collapse?  Why might this be?  Do you agree with this assessment?

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86 thoughts on “Homework: Decline of Empires

  1. Out of the nine suggested causes of imperial downfall, I believe than dynastic succession would be the most immediate cause for decline because if there is confusion or conflict over who is to be the next leader after the most recent has deceased, then it will be very difficult to keep order within the citizens, leading to immediate decline. The rightful owner of the throne will be unknown, and since so many people want it to be theirs, major conflict will occur. An apparent example of this is at the end of the Han dynasty because people are fighting over the throne.
    One of the more gradual consequences of the decline of an empire would be inequitable economic burdens. If a tax burden is shifted from the rich to the poor, the gap between the rich and the poor widens significantly. This can lead to peasant uprisings and revolts, including those near the end of the Han dynasty.
    I agree that “otherworldly and escapist religions” may play a small part in the downfall of an empire, I think that it is not at all an immediate cause for decline.
    -Emily Claire Lauth


  2. I believe that, of the nine causes, the most immediate cause for the decline and fall of an empire would be dynastic succession. All empires were governed by monarchies in which the power was passed down along family lines. This cause is interesting because it would possibly not cause downfall gradually or at all for many generations. It is possible that good leaders inherit power for a long time, but once a bad leader comes into power, that is when the downfall of the empire is most immediate. The decline occurs in the span of the leader’s rule, and is due to revolts, usurpations, and civil wars. It can occur in one generation, and really requires no cultural change, which means it can occur very quickly. Another way that dynastic succession can lead to the fall of an empire is the conflict that comes with not knowing for sure who the next leader will be. This can lead to internal division and civil war which will inevitably end an empire. For example, one reason for the collapse of the Zhou dynasty was internal division due to the succession of King You. External enemies would be another relatively immediate cause of decline, because it can happen within one generation and does not require cultural change. However, a successful empire should be able to defend itself against enemies, or else it would have fallen to other means before it fell to external enemies in one swoop.
    On the other hand, the most gradual cause of failure would be moral decline. Moral decline would mean a change in the culture of a society, which must occur over many generations. The change in one person’s morals or opinions would not affect the empire as a whole. It must occur on a large scale over a long period of time. Also, moral decline is the result of many other factors which must occur on their own, such as dynastic succession or otherworldly religions, which means it would take even longer.
    I think, as to the point of otherworldly religions being a cause of collapse, it is as much a valid point as moral decline would be as a cause. It would be very gradual, because it would cause decline as a result of people lacking earthly rewards as motivation to work harder and benefit the state. However, I think for most, heavenly rewards were just as much a motivation, as earthly rewards. Religious strife among these religions does not seem any more likely to me than religious strife among another religion.

    -Anna Manley


  3. Bureaucratic corruption would have the most immediate consequences because it directly affects the people while escapist or otherwordly religions would the most gradual affect because a religion takes time to spread and it would be a slower process. Though the author’s viewpoint on escapist or otherworldly religions makes sense i disagree because practice of a certain religion should have little to no affect on the government as a whole.
    -Arielle Sterrett


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