We Did Not Forget
by Circle or Line
There are days and, then, there are days.
In 1948, T.S. Eliot assumed that western civilization moved inexorably toward a new dark age. “We can assert with some confidence that our own period is one of decline,” he lamented. “The standards of culture are lower than they were fifty years ago; and the evidences of this decline are visible in every department of human activity.”
One can only shake his head in wonder and bewilderment at what Eliot might write in 2012.
In the elite world of affairs, the powerful steal more and more through the machinery of politics, depriving us not only of liberty but, of course, of justice. There is, in no real sense, neither liberty nor order, internally or externally.
We have one of the most arrogant men ever at the head of our executive branch, and our executive branch is at the height of its power. His most likely challenger this fall seems like merely a less interesting version of himself.
Our Congress seemingly gave up the right to declare war or make just laws sometime in the 1940s. Never have they reclaimed what rightfully and constitutionally belongs to it, and there is no sign that the body as a whole will overcome impotence.
We are now strapped with overwhelming debt, and, yet, we have made sure the wealthy stay wealthy or get wealthier through the charade of stimuli packages.
On Saturday, Congress overwhelmingly rejected Representative Justin Amash’s amendment to prevent indefinite detention of terror suspects. Only the most historically ignorant can fail to realize that the NDAA–which Amash sought to amend–overturns nearly 1,500 years of finely honed common law rights. Through the NDAA, the government claims the right to own us.
Frankly, the loss of civil liberties during the past two presidential administrations (Obama and Bush) is so overwhelming as to be almost certainly on the permanent road to completion (that is, we will have overturned almost every civil liberty worth anything, never to regain them). Not only have we, as Americans, lost our rights to possess our own bodies, but the proliferation of spying at home and abroad–what the Washington Post has convincingly called “Secret America”–is out of control.
We feel pity for Greece as that country succumbs to implosion. Do we fidget as we pray that our leaders–the ones who spy on us with drones at home and murder many abroad–might just somehow be smart enough to prevent us from the same fate?
The so-called “Arab Spring” has led to the destruction of Christians, Christian churches, and Arab Christian culture while intolerant Islamic forces gain control.
And, the list of disaster after disaster, murder after murder, goes on and on and on. . . .
As we look back over western history, we know that every government falls. Just imagine what the world looked like in 410, hordes infiltrating the remnants of civilization.
Or, imagine the time of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth.
Not a single political body of that day has remained. Only two things have in western civilization in the last two thousand years–1) the Jewish people; and 2) the Catholic/Orthodox Church.
Do we imagine the U.S. will last forever? If so, we are fools. It’s quite possible the U.S. has been done since the second administration of Jefferson. As Gordon Wood effectively argued in his Radicalism of the American Revolution, not a single founder thought the Republic still existed in any real form–or perhaps more accurately, with any real soul–at the time of his respective death.
What if the founding of America was the highpoint of western civilization? What if it served as the end of an era, the culmination of all that came before it, rather than the beginning of a new era? In our understandable American patriotism, we call it a “founding.” What if it’s really an “ending.”
For the sake of argument, let’s take Eliot’s claim seriously. If we are in a period of decline, our role as members of western civilization, as advocates of order, dignity, and liberty, changes dramatically from what it is if if we’re in a time of cultural ascension.
If we are falling, we who reject ideology need to prepare the world for it–to create a foundation not just for the survival of our children but for a revival, a renaissance of some kind, twenty generations hence.
If we believe in western civilization, the contract of eternal society, the communion of saints, we might have a profound duty to preserve, not just a right to exist.
What if Eliot was right?
I see little beyond a bleak twilight. I see no justice in our federal government. I see only poison, corruption, and darkness. I see that our economy is tenuous and shaky at best. I see a national debt that is insoluble. I see an education system that is almost totally utilitarian and without redeeming value, a grand babysitting scheme to keep potential hoodlums off the streets and competition out of the labor pool.
Our position abroad is without direction, and I would guess with only slight trepidation that more people outside of our borders hate us than did on September 10, 2001.
Where is the light? Where do we see hope? There are cracks here and there, but the barriers and obstructions continue to mount, crowding in upon us, forcing us ever closer to the whirligig of the abyss.
Still, as St. Paul reminded us, there is always hope. We have autonomous communities, especially in education, forming–but they are decentralized. We have blistering fast technology and technological improvements. But, where else? Where? I ask with all sincerity. Where else?
Things sound rough.
However, lest we invert our gaze to ourselves, let us remember those not so fortunate to even have eyes left to gaze: we also shall not forget these fallen, to whom belongs the full word: memorial.
Here’s a window into a tragedy within the American military: For every soldier killed on the battlefield this year, about 25 veterans are dying by their own hands.
An American soldier dies every day and a half, on average, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Veterans kill themselves at a rate of one every 80 minutes. More than 6,500 veteran suicides are logged every year — more than the total number of soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined since those wars began.
If that statistic is true, it is the most incredible fact I’ve read in recent months and it presents a national emergency of gigantic proportions.
Let’s have some optimism now.
Besides shutting down productivity entirely, in some cases, regulation makes everything cost more than it would otherwise, from our labor to real estate, and from automobiles to the price of milk, bread, and gasoline. For several decades, debt was a relief valve for the rising cost of regulation, which eats away at the value of what we earn with productive work. Now the regime of debt has largely shut down.
But Americans aren’t rioting in the streets over this. We are tightening our belts, in order to get ourselves right with the future. Don’t overlook the significance of this. For every kid in the Occupy movement, there are hundreds his age finding whatever jobs are available and working hard, learning to be reliable employees and team players – and paying bills, saving money, and looking to what they can do about their own futures. These young people, alongside their elders, are holding society together, with discipline and quiet, unheralded daily courage.
Don’t give up on Americans. And don’t give up on liberty.
The good news is that America is the world’s example of what can be achieved by people who are not beholden to a god-like government. America is not paralyzed today by the character of our people, the scarceness of our resources, or the terrors of our future. America is paralyzed because our once-small government has grown on principles that are unworthy of us: invidious principles of despair, anger, resentment, and fear.
Do not fear that Americans can’t do well with less government. Something military officers learn early, if they are wise, is that you don’t control men: you believe in them. And when you do, there is no limit to what they can accomplish. The heroes who lie in our cemeteries, with the small flags waving bravely over them on Memorial Day, knew that.