🔒 The Rise of Decline

Encompassed with domestic conspiracy, military sedition, and civil war, they trembled on the edge of precipices in which, after a longer or shorter term of anxiety, they were inevitably lost. EDWARD GIBBON, THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE In a widely noted coincidence, the Declaration of Independence and Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations were both documents of 1776. In a less well-known accident of fate, the Declaration of Independence dovetailed with the publication of the first volume of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, yet another monument of Enlightenment thought, though not one that created a new nation or established a new method of understanding political economy. Gibbon’s inquiry into the history of an ancient empire passed quickly over its rise. He focused instead on the centuries of decline preceding the fall. These were contrasting endeavors: Jefferson’s excitement about the rights and the

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