Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

The Five Laws of Decline: The Greeks

Posted by Orrin Woodward on April 23, 2012

I am studying the effects of the Five Laws of Decline throughout history, and I am shocked how predictable this historical and economic method is. Let me share one of the many examples. Perhaps the reader will see a correlation with today’s American Empire. 🙂 Thanks, Orrin Woodward

The Greek City States Alliances

The Greeks were a small band of city-states bound by racial ties, but without a coercive federal union. The Five Laws of Decline (FLD) were held in check by the divided sovereignties of the Greek city-states; however, this changed with the unifying effect of the war against Persia. Initially, Sparta and the Peloponnesian League led the Greek alliance, but after the Persian’s retreat from mainland Greece and the Greek’s counterattack and victory march into the Ionian (Greek) colonies of Asia Minor, the Persian War was effectively over.

The Spartans, to their credit, wanted to terminate the alliance and enjoy some peace and tranquility. Sadly, however, once the Greeks realized the capabilities inherent in united action, the divided sovereignty stage of Greek life ended, and the empire, along with the FLD, began. With the Spartans backing out of leadership, the Athenians, led by their commander Xanthippus, vowed that if no one else would protect the Ionians of Asia Minor, then the Athenians would, especially since Asia Minor, for the most part, originally consisted of colonies from Athens.

The Delian League

In 477 BC, on the island of Delos, the Athenians led a congress of over 150 states to create a new alliance called the Delian League to fight against the Persians. This league changed the character of the Greeks forever as it launched the ravages of FLD on a scale previously unknown. Without realizing the inherent dangers associated with FLD and empire building, the Greeks formed an offense-minded league to plunder gains from weaker enemies and replace their conventional defense-minded leagues of the past. Despite the noble official aim of the Delian League, “to avenge the wrongs they suffered by ravaging the territory of the king,” in actuality, the league existed to “utilize the burgeoning might of [the] new Athenian Empire to expropriate unjust gains from league members and various victims in surrounding areas.” 🙂

Basically, there were three main objectives of the Delian League: defend against further invasions by Persia, avenge Persia’s invasion, and divide the spoils of war gained by the allies. Each ally was given a choice to either offer armed services or pay a tax into the league treasury. Given the strength of the Athenian forces and the fear of the Persians, most of the states chose to pay the tax in lieu of providing men and ships. The FLD grew rapidly under this fertile field for plunder. As the Athenians realized the ability to reap profit without efforts, the taxes quickly increased, the alliance of friendly states turned into Athenian hegemony over its weaker brethren, and the Athenians ventured out with a funded, aggressive, and victorious military seeking further plunder.

Thucydides commented on the transformation of Athens from ally to empire builder:

Of all the causes of defection, that connected with arrears of tribute and vessels, and with failure of service, was the chief; for the Athenians were very severe and exacting, and made themselves offensive by applying the screw of necessity to men who were not used to and in fact not disposed for any continuous labor. In some other respects the Athenians were not the old popular rulers they had been at first; and if they had more than their fair share of service, it was correspondingly easy for them to reduce any that tried to leave the confederacy. The Athenians also arranged for the other members of the league to pay its share of the expense in money instead of in ships and men, and for this the subject city-states had themselves to blame, their wish to get out of giving service making most leave their homes. Thus while Athens was increasing her navy with the funds they contributed, a revolt always found itself without enough resources or experienced leaders for war.

The Five Laws of Decline (FLD)

By analyzing the behavior of Athens, one quickly identifies the FLD (discussed in my book RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE in the Legacy chapter) at work helping to destroy Greek liberty.

First, because of Sturgeon’s Law, it was only a matter of time before the absolute power derived from the Athenian’s dictatorial position drew proto-Machiavellian operators into the leadership positions. The Delian League’s political structure would have required angels, not men, in order to limit the possibilities of aggrandizement inherent in the Delian League’s design.

Second, Bastiat’s Law bloomed when the Athenians realized that, since they were receiving the taxes (tributes) and providing the protection, they also could dictate the terms of the “alliance” because he who has the gold makes the rules. Naxos, was the first island to realize its error and challenge the Athenian political control by attempting to withdraw from the league. The Athenians (the former lovers of liberty) viciously attacked and defeated Naxos, forcing the inhabitants to tear down their wall, surrender their fleet, and lose their vote in the Delian League. Naxos, in other words, was no longer an ally in the Delian League, but rather a prisoner of the Athenian Empire. Other states quickly read the tea leaves, and Athens resorted to threats and attacks to subjugate any allies brave enough to question Athenian hegemony.

Third, Gresham’s Law reared its ugly head by driving any noble politicians of liberty underground. Consequently, the only politicians remaining played power politics games to run the coercive league for personal and professional gain. By 461, the conservative Greek Cimon was ostracized, leading to further influence from the democratic elements led by Ephialtes and Pericles. This signaled the end of the official alliance with Sparta and the beginning of preparations for war between the two rival factions of Greeks – Peloponnesian and Athenian. Easy gain and plunder drove out the character-based conservative leaders and replaced them with plunder-hungry Machiavellian war leaders who catered to the democratic masses.

Fourth, as the Delian League digressed from an alliance into an empire, the Athenians invested time into two plunderous activities: further empire building and continued repression of any “allies” who objected to the Athenian dictates. The Athenian League grew in size and repression. Therefore, the Law of Diminishing Returns (LDR) hindered its effectiveness. In addition, the fear of the Athenian League drew a multitude of rivals to unite under the equally strong Peloponnesian League. Guess what happens when the unstoppable force meets the immovable object?  LDR drained the resources of the Athenian and Peloponnesian Leagues while they fought one another for decades in a dispute over greed, plunder, and power – all initiated thanks to the corrosive effects of FLD.

Fifth, the Law of Inertia ensured that the liberties enjoyed by the former independent Greek city states would be difficult, if not impossible, to revive. Each city was forced to choose between one league or the other, as the risk of facing either empire was too great on any one state’s meager resources in comparison with those of the empire. The era of independent city states was finished, and the inertia slammed the door on the previous liberties as powerful alliances were the only way to ensure protection against subjugation. Ironically, the independent city states, in other words, surrendered their independence for fear of losing their independence. 🙂

The subsequent Peloponnesian war weakened both leagues, leaving all of the Greeks prostrate before Macedonia and Alexander the Great. Liberty was snuffed out by innate desire for plunder caused by allowing the FLD to work unchecked. The Greek people would remain subjugated to the Greek, Roman, and eventually the Turkish Empire – their ignoble reward for ignoring the Five Laws of Decline.


Orrin Woodward

16 Responses to “The Five Laws of Decline: The Greeks”

  1. Nate Berens said

    Pericles’ hubris shrouded his leadership in devising the Athenian war strategy around her decadence and dooming Athens to a collapse from its status as a Mediteranean super-power from the start in the (First) Peloponnesian War. Pericles did not see the consequences of waiting it out. Pericles essentially decided we do not need to change, we’re Athens, we can outlast and outspend the Spartans as we hide from our problems inside of our walled and fortified city. Athens the wealthiest city-state in the world sought to spend there way out, they had a water port and a navy that the Spartans could not match. The Athenians felt they could travel freely returning with the necessary supplies to support our people until the Spartans ran out of supplies or lost interest allowing Democratic Athens to return to the good old days. The Spartans fought to perserve their ideology and felt threatened by the Athenians as they expanded spreading Democracy and wealth around the mediteranean and Agean seas. The Peloponnesion War lasted twenty-seven years, cost Athens half of her popluation to disease caused by the unsanitary conditions inside of the city from a prolonged overpopulation, and all of her wealth, because when the time came they refused to fight for what they stood for.

    Shortly after this Athens glory faded away as it quietly became simply another story of what was in the history books. I fear the same is coming for America as we fail to address the issues at hand. Our focuses are blurred as we fight a war we cannot fiscally afford. Inflation runs rampant as we further devalue the dollar by carelessly printing and injecting more money into circulation. While the government continues to grow and burden the citizenry with higher and higher taxes because we are too cowardly and lazy to say no, and accept our own responsibilities in life. Politicians are transforming the masterpiece “Republic” our founding fathers created, expanding it into an unrecognizable form where the Constitution is ignored and where partisanship governs congressional and executive policy making not the will of the people. We cannot simply spend our way out of this sluggish economy, we must reign in spending, limit the growth of government, and refocus our attention on domestic issues or face the same demise as the Athenians and Romans before us.

    Thank you for the great information Orrin.

  2. gabulmer said

    Reblogged this on TEAM Legionnaire and commented:
    from Orrin Woodward’s leadership blog

  3. Wow, there it is, historical evidence that we MUST do something now and create a freedom shift. Orrin, your example also reminds me of the nation of Israel. Early on, they were mostly among their tribes under the guidance of “Judges” until the people begged for a king. Sure things were good early on with David and Solomon bringing about Israels’ golden age, but the FLD took off like a rocket the very next generation, and the effects are still felt today.

  4. Orrin,

    History is such a great teacher yet at the same time what seems to be powerful and erudite minds continue to ignore it. We can attribute that to as many reasons as there are discussions that take place, but biblically it all ends where it started the cycle of sin. This thing called pride.

    The other aspect of history is, it takes a long time for things to unfold while it is happening but in retrospect it seems so crystal clear and yet the human agenda of the present is so wrapped up in itself and of the present time. The other problem seems like the current generation has abandoned the art of thinking and somehow ‘thinking has been delegated’ and we can also have many reasons as to why that is. The problem with the few is their thinking is wrong in most cases, and the reason, history is being ignored. Sound yet profoundly simple biblical principles are being ignored and may I say even by the church community as they are trying to fit into the current norm of the society.

    Like Spurgeon once said and I paraphrase about the urgency of responsibility to witness the gospel message ‘even if a soul is going end up in hell, let them atleast leap over a large body of believers who were willing to stand in the gap’. I see LIFE and the incredible work you are doing leading this TEAM will be the body of believers(Chirst and/or of history) that the world has to leap over to end up repeating history all over.

    God bless you

    –thank you

    • Venkat, I got one word for you: Profound! 🙂 God Bless, Orrin

    • Kevin Hamm said

      Great post Orrin, It compelled me to alter my day to study it a little. To branch off of Venkat’s comments, I believe Team and Life are going to make such an impact (and already have) because the leadership is unwilling to compromise the message. It is not that we are acting in the role of the church, we are simply running a business and the leadership happens to be uncompromising Christians applying the great commission in every aspect of their lives. The confusing part is that many churches are trying to do what we are doing, create a wide funnel and build social community by diluting the true message of the gospel and leaving biblical exegesis behind in the wake of inspirational homilies. The AGO book of the month for March, What is a Healthy Church, by Mark Dever (a condensed version of his greater work) is something all Christian Life members should read. I believe that LIFE/TEAM will play a significant role in altering not only the decline pattern of our country but also the same decline pattern in the church. Thank you Orrin.

      Kevin Hamm

      • Kevin, I think the key is that our goal is to live a whole life and not compartmentalize different areas which seems to be a favorite pastime of modernity. We can be uncompromising in our faith, but NOT un-compassionate with others who think differently. Instead of endless arguments, we should develop friendships and have interesting dialogues for BOTH sides to learn and grow from. This is what I see occurring across the LIFE Business and what brings me such hope for the future! Great comments! thanks, Orrin

  5. It is an honor to learn this type of information from someone so brilliant and dedicated to a cause other than his own well being. I make it a priority to embody everything you stand for and if I could reach one percent of the man you are I would be greatly endebted to you. You are an inspiration and role model. Thank you for teaching me what I need to learn to be the man I am destined to be. Sincerely, Chase Archer Evans.

    • Chase, Let’s both follow Christ as He is the one worth following and the one who keeps us from falling into the sinful tendencies of the Five Laws of Decline. Time to roll! God Bless, Orrin

  6. Orrin:

    It is striking how clear your “forensic tool” of the Five Laws of Decline is for dissecting and understanding otherwise complex geopolitical events. I find that it can just as readily explain a train wreck in someone’s personal life, a breakup of a church, the fall of a corporation, or any other event where “the mighty have fallen.” This is great stuff, and I look forward to you applying it to other areas of life.

    Chris Brady

  7. Bill Eder said

    Seems humanity will always follow themselves. Almost nothing has changed since the fall in the garden. It is comforting that the Father creator will forever keep His promises. He sent Jesus to show us the way yet mankind chooses to ignore the one who can save us from ourselves. Thanks again Orrin, you are an amazing
    young leader.
    God love you.
    Bill Eder

  8. Orrin, this post is a good example of why you have so many followers and so many accolades. You have an amazing intellect but also are one of the funnest people to hang around!! Cant wait to see you in Columbus!

  9. andredegrace said

    Great post Orrin. A while ago I had read The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan. It was a great book for me since I love the politics and history of the Antique period. He uses Thucydides’ writings of the war and created a very readable version for the everyday non-academic reader.

    So having known a little about the fall of the Greek ‘way’ after this war, I can truly appreciate your intellect on so easily applying the FLD in the events that followed their decline. It just makes sense, and it’s incredible, as others have pointed out, how you can apply this to any ‘rise and fall’ example. When will we learn?… Thank you so much for your guidance in the subject of politics and economics, where, many times, seem unreachable for the average person.

    André DeGrâce

  10. Simply amazing as history does tend to repeat itself but hopefully not on our watch.

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