While I'm not at all sure that the one-third of call centre employees who have degrees were motivated by the desire for academic honours (I think they probably believed the innovative market theory that you could quintuple the number of graduates with no impact on graduate salaries, and thought they'd get well-paid jobs), and I don't get a hint of Paul Kennedy's later thesis that 'while the point of becoming a great power is to be able to fight major wars, the way to remain one is not to fight them', the pattern Glubb lays out seems a fairly good fit with what we see.
Let us now, however, return to the life-story of our typical empire. We have already considered the age of outburst, when a little-regarded people suddenly bursts on to the world stage with a wild courage and energy. Let us call it the Age of the Pioneers.
Then we saw that these new conquerors acquired the sophisticated weapons of the old empires, and adopted their regular systems of military organisation and training. A great period of military expansion ensued, which we may call the Age of Conquests. The conquests resulted in the acquisition of vast territories under one government, thereby automatically giving rise to commercial prosperity. We may call this the Age of Commerce.
The Age of Conquests, of course, overlaps the Age of Commerce. The proud military traditions still hold sway and the great armies guard the frontiers, but gradually the desire to make money seems to gain hold of the public. During the military period, glory and honour were the principal objects of ambition. To the merchant, such ideas are but empty words, which add nothing to the bank balance.
The wealth which seems, almost without effort, to pour into the country, enables the commercial classes to grow immensely rich. How to spend all this money becomes a problem to the wealthy business community. Art, architecture and luxury find rich patrons. Splendid municipal buildings and wide streets lend dignity and beauty to the wealthy areas of great cities. The rich merchants build themselves palaces, and money is invested in communications, highways, bridges, railways or hotels, according to the varied patterns of the ages.
The first half of the Age of Commerce appears to be peculiarly splendid. The ancient virtues of courage, patriotism and devotion to duty are still in evidence. The nation is proud, united and full of self-confidence. Boys are still required, first of all, to be manly — to ride, to shoot straight and to tell the truth. (It is remarkable what emphasis is placed, at this stage, on the manly virtue of truthfulness, for lying is cowardice — the fear of facing up to the situation.)
Boys' schools are intentionally rough. Frugal eating, hard living, breaking the ice to have a bath and similar customs are aimed at producing a strong, hardy and fearless breed of men. Duty is the word constantly drummed into the heads of young people.
The Age of Commerce is also marked by great enterprise in the exploration for new forms of wealth. Daring initiative is shown in the search for profitable enterprises in far comers of the earth, perpetuating to some degree the adventurous courage of the Age of Conquests.
The Age of Affluence
There does not appear to be any doubt that money is the agent which causes the decline of this strong, brave and self-confident people. The decline in courage, enterprise and a sense of duty is, however, gradual.
The first direction in which wealth injures the nation is a moral one. Money replaces honour and adventure as the objective of the best young men. Moreover, men do not normally seek to make money for their country or their community, but for themselves. Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, the Age of Affluence silences the voice of duty. The object of the young and the ambitious is no longer fame, honour or service, but cash.
Education undergoes the same gradual transformation. No longer do schools aim at producing brave patriots ready to serve their country. Parents and students alike seek the educational qualifications which will command the highest salaries. The Arab moralist, Ghazali (1058-1111), complains in these very same words of the lowering of objectives in the declining Arab world of his time. Students, he says, no longer attend college to acquire learning and virtue, but to obtain those qualifications which will enable them to grow rich. The same situation is everywhere evident among us in the West today.
That which we may call the High Noon of the nation covers the period of transition from the Age of Conquests to the Age of Affluence: the age of Augustus in Rome, that of Harun al-Rashid in Baghdad, of Sulaiman the Magnificent in the Ottoman Empire, or of Queen Victoria in Britain. Perhaps we might add the age of Woodrow Wilson in the United States. All these periods reveal the same characteristics. The immense wealth accumulated in the nation dazzles the onlookers. Enough of the ancient virtues of courage, energy and patriotism survive to enable the state successfully to defend its frontiers. But, beneath the surface, greed for money is gradually replacing duty and public service. Indeed the change might be summarised as being from service to selfishness.
Another outward change which invariably marks the transition from the Age of Conquests to the Age of Affluence is the spread of defensiveness. The nation, immensely rich, is no longer interested in glory or duty, but is only anxious to retain its wealth and its luxury. It is a period of defensiveness, from the Great Wall of China, to Hadrian's Wall on the Scottish Border, to the Maginot Line in France in 1939. Money being in better supply than courage, subsidies instead of weapons are employed to buy off enemies. To justify this departure the mind easily devises its own justification. Military readiness, or aggressiveness, is denounced as primitive and immoral. Civilised peoples are too proud to fight. The conquest of one nation by another is declared to be immoral. Empires are wicked. This intellectual device enables us to suppress our feeling of inferiority, when we read of the heroism of our ancestors, and then ruefully contemplate our position today. 'It is not that we are afraid to fight,' we say, ' but we should consider it immoral.' This even enables us to assume an attitude of moral superiority.
The weakness of pacifism is that there are still many peoples in the world who are aggressive. Nations who proclaim themselves unwilling to fight are liable to be conquered by peoples in the stage of militarism—perhaps even to see themselves incorporated into some new empire, with the status of mere provinces or colonies.
When to be prepared to use force and when to give way is a perpetual human problem, which can only be solved, as best we can, in each successive situation as it arises. In fact, however, history seems to indicate that great nations do not normally disarm from motives of conscience, but owing to the weakening of a sense of duty in the citizens, and the increase in selfishness and the desire for wealth and case.
The Age of Intellect
We have now, perhaps arbitrarily, divided the life-story of our great nation into four ages. The Age of the Pioneers (or the Outburst), the Age of Conquests, the Age of Commerce, and the Age of Affluence. The great wealth of the nation is no longer needed to supply the mere necessities, or even the luxuries of life. Ample funds are available also for the pursuit of knowledge.
The merchant princes of the Age of Commerce seek fame and praise, not only by endowing works of art or patronising music and literature. They also found and endow colleges and universities. It is remarkable with what regularity this phase follows on that of wealth, in empire after empire, divided by many centuries. In the eleventh century, the former Arab Empire, then in complete political decline, was ruled by the Seljuk sultan, Malik Shah. The Arabs, no longer soldiers, were still the intellectual leaders of the world. During the reign of Malik Shah, the building of universities and colleges became a passion. Whereas a small number of universities in the great cities had sufficed the years of Arab glory, now a university sprang up in every town. In our own lifetime, we have witnessed the same phenomenon in the U.S.A. and Britain. When these nations were at the height of their glory, Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge seemed to meet their needs. Now almost every city has its university. The ambition of the young, once engaged in the pursuit of adventure and military glory, and then in the desire for the accumulation of wealth, now turns to the acquisition of academic honours.
It is useful here to take note that almost all the pursuits followed with such passion throughout the ages were in themselves good. The manly cult of hardihood, frankness and truthfulness, which characterised the Age of Conquests, produced many really splendid heroes. The opening up of natural resources, and the peaceful accumulation of wealth, which marked the age of commercialism, appeared to introduce new triumphs in civilisation, in culture and in the arts. In the same way, the vast expansion of the field of knowledge achieved by the Age of Intellect seemed to mark a new high-water mark of human progress. We cannot say that any of these changes were 'good 'or' bad '. The striking features in the pageant of empire are:
(a) the extraordinary exactitude with which these stages have followed one another, in empire after empire, over centuries or even millennia; and
(b) the fact that the successive changes seem to represent mere changes in popular fashion—new fads and fancies which sweep away public opinion without logical reason. At first, popular enthusiasm is devoted to military glory, then to the accumulation of wealth and later to the acquisition of academic fame.
Why could not all these legitimate, and indeed beneficent, activities be carried on simultaneously, each of them in due moderation? Yet this never seemed to happen.
There you have the UK round about now. What happens next in the story of Empire? Does it go on to greater heights? I think probably not ....