"In his new book Biohistory: Decline and Fall of the West, Dr Penman argues that all civilisations move in cycles fuelled by environmental factors such as famine, religion and war which change the temperament of a nation.
He claims that by the 19th century Christianity had driven profound social change in Britain which altered the way families behaved, children were raised and women were treated.
Where previously children had largely been ignored, or beaten when they misbehaved, now they were schooled and instructed and childhood became an important part of life.
Dr Penman claims it was this change which allowed the great thinkers and innovators of the Industrial Revolution to thrive. Christianity also promoted the importance of chastity, marriage and the nuclear family which, coupled with growing prosperity, allowed national stress levels to drop.
This increase in national confidence fuelled the desire for the First World War, but the conflict set in motion a series of biological events which would lead to the beginnings of decline.
“Temperament has a biological basis that changes over time defining out culture and shaping our identity right down to our DNA. It is known as epigenetics.” added Dr Penman.
“The First world war had an epigenetic effect in that mothers made anxious by the way gave birth to an unusually aggressive generation which was the main cause of the Second World War.
“The Second World War in turn produced not only the Vietnam War but the militant anti-war students of the late 1960s. But now we are becoming a lot less war-like and much more reluctant to fight. People no longer want to join the army, or become engineers… And it’s not about money because these professions often pay very well. It’s because we lack the biological temperament. People would rather do arts degrees.”
Dr Penman believes Britain is now at the same point as Rome in 100BC. Despite military victories which had increased the sway of the empire throughout the western Mediterranean there was trouble brewing at home where conditions were deteriorating for the Romans.
As wealth and taxes poured into the capital, the wealthy became richer still causing social tensions, political extremism and violence. Roman generals began to fight amongst themselves and by 49BC Julius Caesar had been declared dictator setting in motion a chain of events which would see the rise of Imperial Rome.
Although the Roman Empire survived for a further 500 years, it was plague by civil war, unrest and political assassinations. Rome was eventually sacked by the Visigoths in 410AD.’