When Gibbon in that opening passage of his work looks as the Roman Empire in that age of the Antonines, he does not say explicitly –but I am sure this was in his mind– that he is also thinking of himself as standing on another peak of civilization and looking back towards that distant peak in the past across a broad trough of barbarism in between. Gibbon thought to himself: “On the morrow of the death of the Emperor Marcus the Roman Empire went into decline. All the values that I, Gibbon, and my kind care for began to be degraded. Religion and barbarism began to triumph. This lamentable state of affairs continued to prevail for hundreds and hundreds of years; and then, a few generations before my time, no longer ago than the close of the seventeenth century, a rational civilization began to emerge again.” From his peak in the eighteenth century Gibbon looks back to the Antonine peak in the second century, and that view –which is, I think, implicit in Gibbon’s work– has been put very clearly and sharply by a writer of the twentieth century, from whom I propose to quote a passage somewhat at length because it is, so to speak, the formal antithesis of the thesis which I want to maintain.