How does a society fall into a Dark Age? It doesn’t happen overnight and may be invisible to the people living in the time. I’m sure that Europeans living in the Middle Ages would have denied that they were living in a Dark Age. It’s only after the Renaissance and Intellectual Enlightenment had occurred that historians could look back and say with certainty when the Middle Ages began. So, how do we learn from history? What causes a decline into a Dark age? Here’s what I think…
Social stagnation and apathy. As Rome declined, the ranks of its army became filled with mercenaries instead of citizen soldiers. Politicians turned to “Bread and Circuses” to keep citizens from questioning the direction their government was moving in.
Excessive reliance on foreign supplies. The Western Roman Empire had extended supply lines that made it vulnerable to hit and run tactics used by the barbarians to strangle trade to the point where Rome itself became vulnerable. In the east, huge ransoms were paid by the Eastern emperor to forestall invasion. In the end, The Huns decided that the prize was more valuable than the bribe.
As Roman influence waned, warlords gained control of their local areas. As the feudal system spread, Europe became nothing more than a collection of loosely connected counties. Most peasants lived and died under the shadow of the same feudal capital. The ruling class formed the only foreign relationships. That class of rulers created an inter dependent network of socially connected lords, answerable only to the church and king.
Dark ages do not necessarily stagnate technologically. Rome prospered for centuries with relatively stagnant technology. Technological advances occurred, even during the height of the Dark ages. It was the social climate that defined the Dark ages. Peasants beholden to their lord were unable to break the debt circle which held them at the bottom of society.
See any parallels to our present day society? Substitute Corporation for lord, “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” for Circuses, terrorists for barbarians, church for church… and there you go. If 500 years from now, historians call this a dark age of social injustice, would we deny it?