The specter of decline and fall has long haunted the Western mind. For fifteen hundred years after the fall of Rome, the causes of its collapse have been examined. The most common lesson was that decline was integral to the system, just as death is integral to life: the responsibilities of a great power ultimately generate its own collapse. Edward Gibbon wrote:

the decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the causes of destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and as soon as time, or accident, had removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight.

Immanuel Kant agreed: “the laws progressively lose their impact as the government increases its range, and a soulless despotism, after crushing the germs of goodness, will finally lapse into anarchy.”