Gershon Hepner

Decline and Fall of Faithless Empires

Political commitment requires artists to abandon

the freedom that’s provided for their artistry, machinery

political opinions ruin, pouring sand in

its gears while they admire ideologically the senseless scenery.

In contrast, the decline and fall of mighty empires and

contemporary regimes like ours has throughout time depended

on their commitment to traditions, whose aband-

onment by faithless populations leaves them weak and undefended.

In “Europe May Be Declining, but America Isn’t,” WSJ, 6/24/24, Walter Russell Mead writes:

In 1375 Charles IV named Lübeck one of the “five glories” of his Holy Roman Empire, along with Pisa, Florence, Venice and Rome. After a long decline, the German Empire absorbed Lübeck in 1871, and the last vestiges of its independence ended when the Nazis incorporated the “free city” into the state of Schleswig-Holstein. It remains, however, an important tourist destination, and is renowned for its marzipan.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, decadence and decline were central preoccupations of Lübeck’s most famous modern son, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist Thomas Mann. “Buddenbrooks,” the work that made his name, was set in a thinly fictionalized Lübeck and describes the social, cultural and economic decline of a typical German bourgeois family during the 19th century. As the primitive strength of the early Buddenbrook generations yielded to the more tortured and conflicted psychologies of a later era, the family became less effective in the real world. Family ties frayed, the business shrank, and the novel closes as a handful of impoverished surviving family members cling to the memories of past greatness.

History doesn’t, I think, teach us that decline has a single cause. The ancient Greeks and Romans believed that decline and decay were part of a natural and inevitable process. As a society becomes affluent and powerful, it loses the primitive virtues that made it great. As virtue vanishes from a people, its institutions decay, and ultimately its defenses collapse.

About the Author
Gershon Hepner is a poet who has written over 25,000 poems on subjects ranging from music to literature, politics to Torah. He grew up in England and moved to Los Angeles in 1976. Using his varied interests and experiences, he has authored dozens of papers in medical and academic journals, and authored "Legal Friction: Law, Narrative, and Identity Politics in Biblical Israel." He can be reached at
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