Category Archives: History

Edward Gibbon on the Fall of Roman Empire

I just came across this in an article from The American Thinker, entitled The Quiet Revolution: How the New Left Took Over the Democratic Party, by Scott Powell. Though it’s not short, the entire piece is well worth the time it takes to read it, tracing as it does the way Marxism, Leninism and other communistic “isms” have slowly made their way into American politics, society, and government — precisely, as it happens, in the manner that some of them advised.

However when I got to the part where Powell references the famous historian Edward Gibbon and what he said regarding aspects of Roman society that were precursors to Rome’s fall, I thought the parallels as they apply to what we’re seeing in the USA today were so inescapable and sobering, I wanted to share them:

The big question is whether the nation can survive and prosper if the culture remains fractured with a majority adrift from the heritage, morality and values of liberty and personal responsibility that are at the heart of the Declaration and the Constitution.

Edward Gibbon, the renowned historian, published his first of six-volumes of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in 1776, the year Thomas Jefferson penned the Declaration of Independence. Gibbon described six attributes that Rome embodied at its end: first, an overwhelming love of show and luxury; second, a widening gap between the rich and the poor; third, an obsession with sports and a freakishness in the arts, masquerading as creativity and originality; fourth, a decline in morals, increase in divorce and decline in the institution of the family; fifth, economic deterioration resulting from debasement of the currency, inflation, excessive taxation, and overregulation; and sixth, an increased desire by the citizenry to live off the state.

One might hope that awareness of factors associated with Rome’s fall would prompt an awakening in America. But so many are now disengaged and relatively few people read books, let alone possess the capacity to reflect deeply about causality and historical parallels. Many feel atomized and helpless.

Turning around America’s decline will require more than just political change. It’s vital to reestablish a positive and solid framework and foundation, around which a majority consensus could emerge and grow.  Such a foundation was well understood and articulated by George Washington — revered by many as the greatest of all U.S. presidents. His timeless wisdom was conveyed in both his speech consecrating the nation at its birth and also in his Farewell Address delivered eight years later upon leaving office.  He said:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports… Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

You can  Read the entire article HERE.

 

Take a Day Off and Other Articles

stu sleeping

As you’ve probably noticed, I’ve been MIA for the last week or so. I gave up on trying to control myself and gave it over to the Lord to handle. He seems to be giving me a vacation of sorts…

So today, I thought I’d put up a list of some items of interest I’ve come across recently…er, well, mostly today, actually.

First up, appropriately enough is Writers Should Take a Year Off and Give Us All a Break – an essay in The Guardian on the observation that, to borrow from Ecclesiastes, “the writing of many books is endless…”  At the time of Solomon, however, it was nothing compared to today, when the rate of publication has exploded as never before. How ironic that this is occurring at the same time that more and more people lack the attention span or time, to read anything longer than a tweet.

Still, I like the idea of taking a year off from writing… oh, wait… I’ve already sort of been doing that …

Next, I draw your attention to a Muslim Brotherhood Fact Sheet from Stand With Us, an international, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting Israel.  It includes quotes from the Brotherhood’s own charters, writings and guides. Members are not interested in dialog. Nor are they interested in peace (unless you count the peace that results from the entire world being converted to Islam). They are most definitely not interested in democracy, unless — again — it’s the Islamist kind… that is, Sharia Law.

Third is an essay on the misguided Western policy of appeasement during World War 1 that resulted in World War 2 and may well be on its way to setting up World War 3. This one’s written by my favorite blogger and former high level Foreign Service Officer The Diplomad 2.0: Obama and an Edouard Daladier Moment

And finally, the new  “funnel tunnel” in Houston, an unintended metaphor for where our tax dollars/charity donations are going…

Let’s Keep Politics Out of It

empty_chair

What, really, does “Let’s keep politics out of this” mean?

Previous to a recent election, I was going through our information on ballot propositions, one of which involved changing the way judges are selected. Voting on judges has always been a mystery to me. I don’t know any of them, so how am I supposed to know? In the past I just skipped that section, thinking that people in the know, like lawyers or folks who’d recently served on juries should be the ones to vote.

This time, however, I read the amendment and then started in on the arguments in favor of the amendment:  the Republican governor of AZ supported it (who I had voted for) as did various retired judges, and other legislators. Those who opposed the amendment included the League of Women Voters, a bunch of lawyers, a woman pastor of a large local, very liberal Presbyterian?/Methodist? church,  a domestic violence organization, and the Democrat Party of Arizona.

I find the latter most ironic, since almost all the arguments against the amendment cited the need to “keep politics out of the selection of judges.”  And yet… one of the main methods liberals use to change this country, particularly when they can’t do it through the elected legislators is through the courts. The most blatant example that comes to mind is AZ SB 1070 — passed by the legislators, approved by voters and declared invalid by a judge.

Sounds like politics is already very much involved in our judicial system, so why shouldn’t it be involved in the selection of the judges?

Still, that’s not what struck me the most this time. This time, I realized that somehow the phrase “let’s keep politics out of (fill in the blank)” is one that communicates the idea that “politics” is bad, superficial, and irrelevant. Ie, “the only reason you want to do X is because you’re a Republican”  Implying that signing up to be a Republican was something done in a vacuum and afterwards came the criterion for what that meant.  That is, having decided to register as a Republican, I then must go through the party’s positions to figure out what I’m supposed to think.

Really??

I think not.  Rather, it’s that what I think just happens to line up mostly with what Republicans express and support. And, in fact, as I began reading through the arguments, the first thing I checked was who had made the argument and what was their affiliation. Because that way I have some idea of their worldview and where they are coming from. I am learning more and more that we can use the same words and assign them very different meaning.

I have to laugh at the accusations of the detractors of conservatives, especially those of us who enjoy listening to Rush Limbaugh — ie, that we are mind-numbed robots who have to tune in to figure out what to think.

Not at all. More like we — or at least I — tune in because I’m in desperate need of hearing a sane voice.

In fact, many, many years ago, after I’d gotten saved, the more I learned about the Word of God, the more conservative I became and the more interested in politics. (Writing novels helped spur this interest as well) But everything I read in the newspapers, saw on TV, heard on the radio conflicted with what I believed. It was depressing and frustrating.

I remember when Carter was president, which was really depressing… how people thought all the Christians would vote for him because he was a Christian. Aaack!  No way.

He was such a disaster. (I vividly remember the gas lines. In fact my dad and hubby were nearly run over by a distraught elderly woman while they were waiting outside the car in one of them)

Ronald Reagan was amazing; I was so proud to vote for him. What a president! I loved him.

But still, the papers, the radio, the TV… they all had one voice (pretty much as they still do, if you don’t get Fox)…Reagan was a dunce, an actor, a fool, an idiot, what did he know? etc, ad nauseum. Rather like they treated George W Bush.

And then one day I had the radio on and heard Rush Limbaugh for the very first time. And yes, it was probably sometime in 1988 when he first came on the radio. It was amazing. Finally here was someone — on the radio! — expressing the views I already held! I was so jazzed to learn there were others who thought as I did, others outside my little local assembly of fellow believers, and the obscure periodicals I read.

In fact, it’s still like that. I hear or watch or read the news and form my own assessments, which usually are nothing like the assessments of the mainstream media folks. But  afterward I go my favorite conservative sites (Drudge, Power Line, The Diplomad, Rush, VDH ) and aaahhh. I find common sense, actual facts and information, observations or declarations of the obvious which are totally missing from the mainstream media…

The funny thing is, the ones who constantly seem to harp on the notion of “keeping politics out of it” are the ones who put politics into everything. Who tend to do things precisely for “politics” which I’m coming to think is another word for power-grabbing. But that, too, is a post for another day.

de Tocqueville: Soft Despotism

No Trespassing

Recently I came across this quote from Alexis de Tocqueville, the Frenchman sent by the French government in 1831 to study the American prison system, but who was really more interested in studying and writing about American society. He did so in a book entitled Democracy in America, and it is from this that the following quote on soft despotism was taken. (Soft despotism is control over or oppression of the people without their realizing it; hard despotism is the more obvious oppression.)

I’m posting it because I think it sounds eerily apropos of what’s going on in our country today.

“After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.

I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.”

From Volume II, Book 4, Chapter 6 of his book Democracy in America,.

The above link takes you to  the entire book, which you can also download. I just downloaded it onto my Kindle for PC,  in fact.

Shift From Grace to Legalism

Christian Theology

Note: In yesterday’s post I may have given some the impression that Col Thieme taught that we have to feel sorry for our sins in order to be forgiven. He did not. In fact he taught the exact opposite (which was what I was trying to communicate.) I’ve since revised the murky paragraph to reflect this:

Updated paragraph: Col Thieme and others taught that this need to feel sorrow was yet one more means of inserting human effort into the equation… The feeling bad or sorry or broken-hearted becomes the currency by which one tries to earn or buy forgiveness, and is not commensurate with grace.

Now, on to today’s post.

In the process of all the thinking and researching I’ve been doing on the matter of confession of sins, I came across this quote by Roger E. Olsen in his book The Story of Christian Theology:

“Occasionally these fathers of the generation after the apostles gave the gospel their own unique interpretations that began to turn it away from the great themes of grace and faith so strongly emphasized by Paul and  other apostles and more toward the gospel as a “new law” of God-pleasing conduct and behavior… one senses a distance between the Christianity of the New Testament — especially that of Paul — and that of the apostolic fathers (2nd century). References to Paul and the other apostles frequent (in their works); but in spite of this the new faith becomes more and more a new law, and the doctrine of God’s gracious justification becomes a doctrine of grace that helps us act justly.”*

“Of course this shift was subtle and not absolute. It was a barely but definitely perceptible turn in these second-century Christian writings toward legalism, or what may be better termed “Christian moralism.” Although the apostolic fathers such as Ignatius and Polycarp quoted Paul more than James, it was the latter’s spirit that breathed through them. Perhaps due to a perceived moral and spiritual laziness and decline among Christians, they emphasized the need to avoid sinning, obey leaders and work hard to please God more than the need for liberation from bondage to the law.”

*Roger E. Olsen quoting Justo Gonzalez.

1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge Collapse

I came across the following video on Power Line, as part of a poll asking whether it or footage of the explosion of the Hindenburg Blimp best capture the sense of the Obama administration’s coming apart. I vote for this one.   If it does, indeed, come apart.

But that’s another matter. I have to say I found this video, which I’d never seen before, fascinating. My husband, as an engineer, had seen it before, early on in his engineering studies. It’s used now as a study case for what happens when you fail to take into account resonance.

I think it’s a study case for what happens when you think you know everything and are trying to save money.

According the Wikipedia, the 1940 Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third longest suspension bridge in the US, following number two, the George Washington Bridge in New York City and number one, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, which had the longest suspension bridge main span in the world at the time of its completion. Tacoma Narrows was designed by a man, Leon Moisseiff, who had worked on the other two bridges, but in this case had an eye to cutting costs. The original design projected costs at $11 million whereas Moisseiff’s was projected to cost $8 million. It would be “slimmer and more elegant” as well.

It was completed and opened to traffic in July of 1940 and collapsed 4 months later on November 7. There was no loss of life in the collapse save that of a three-legged cocker spaniel named Tubby, who was so terrified he refused to leave the car he was in, which the driver had abandoned.

I could try to describe the undulations, but since I have the video, I’ll just let you watch it. It’s only about 3 minutes long. I especially like this version with the eerie music of Christopher Payne. They say you could walk along the center line and not be moved up or down, even as the sides were roiling about you.

What this says to me, though is that Man is fallible and always will be, but never more than when he thinks he is not.

A Christian Nation

I was hoping to say a bit about the conference, some of the things that were taught, some of the things that we did, but I have been an zombie all day, some of the things I thought. I did get some housecleaning done and figured out how to use the new dishwasher my hubby put in while I was gone… but writing much of anything was pretty much futile.

I didn’t even remember to vote until hubby got home and reminded me.

Voting put me in mind of politics and so, in honor of the Republican Convention, which, much to the dismay of Samuel L. Jackson and Ellen Barkin, was not washed away/shut down/destroyed and pillaged by Hurricane Isaac, but is proceeding more or less as planned, I decided now might be the time to share this video by Stoplight called “A Walk for the President: A Christian Nation?”

4 July 2012

“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” ~ John Adams*

Today, as we celebrate the freedoms we’ve enjoyed as a nation for over three hundred years, freedoms which seem to be eroding away because of the very elements Adams notes in the quote above, let us remember that while human freedom is weak because it depends on fallen humans for its maintenance, the spiritual freedom we have in Christ cannot be touched by anyone.

“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” ~ 2 Corinthians 3:17

*The Works of John Adams, ed. C. F. Adams, Boston: Little, Brown Co., 1851, 4:31

A Nation of Immense Size and Diversity

Recently I’ve been writing about how the Romans didn’t think democracy was a workable form of government for their nation. For one thing, they didn’t think their non-patrician countrymen were up to it. Another reason they thought it to be impractical was because of the size and diversity of its population. In his book Roman History, second century Roman historian Dio Cassius recorded the words of Gaius Maecenas, a close associate and advisor to Augustus Caesar:

“The cause [of democracy being impractical] is the immense size of our population and the magnitude of the issues at stake. Our population embraces every variety of mankind in terms both of race and character; hence both their tempers and their desires are infinitely diverse, and these evils have gone so far that they can only be controlled with great difficulty.” [from Life in Ancient Rome by Don Nardo]

Like Rome, America also has an immense population (ours is 313 million compared to Rome’s 88 million at the time of its greatest expansion under Emperor Trajan) and our diversity has long been cause for marveling. Not because it was a good thing in itself so much as that so many people of infinitely diverse backgrounds could come together and live in peace as one nation.

E Pluribus Unum

From many, One

Our first, de facto national motto, and one of the keys to America’s success as a nation. Our early ideals were never about being “diverse” so much as about being free. About being a part of a new sort of government that guaranteed the freedom and equality of all men before the law. The credo from times past was that people came to America to be American, not to remain whatever they were before. They left the old country because the old country wasn’t working for them — was stifling them, starving them, abusing them, enslaving, even killing them. They came to embrace American ideals of freedom and the right to pursue happiness as they saw fit, to learn English, to work their way out of poverty into prosperity  — to become a part of this great nation, not a part in it.

Cultural trappings were brought into the great melting pot and assimilated, not singled out for special regard and treatment. Our Christmas traditions in particular are an amalgam of the customs of many different nationalities.  And if you don’t want to celebrate Christmas that’s fine too. This assimilation and amalgamation is what allowed us to survive,  what allowed our representative democratic republic to work. In other nations or regions where different tribes or cultures or ethnicities insisted on maintaining their separate “identities,” there has been continual warfare.

Unfortunately, more and more we’re beginning to see that sort of identity politics developing here: people who come to this country for the prosperity, but have no interest in acquiring a new language or new ways. Instead, clinging to their old tongue and culture, they create enclaves within the whole, gathering together with their fellows and, in so doing, insulating themselves from American culture. They don’t want to join it, to learn its language, to work side by side with its people and become one of them, they just want to get the goods — to keep their old ways and allegiances as they send what they get back home to the old, dysfunctional country.

And there are some Americans who are fine with that. Who even celebrate it.

Which is just one more reason why as a nation we are growing more and more fracture-lines by the day…

Eligible to Vote

A few posts ago, (which is also unfortunately now a couple of weeks ago — where does the time go?) I wrote about how in ancient Rome the Roman senators, all part of the “ancient and venerable patrician elite,” did not consider the common people fit to rule along with them. In the post, I drew comparisons to some people in our present day government who seem to hold to the same opinion regarding the so-called common people. The middle class, lacking an Ivy League degree, common man American. The Tea Party, if you will — those bitter clingers to their guns and religion.

Considering further, however, I can see some justification for the Roman patrician’s views. The people they considered unfit included freed slaves, foreigners, and middle class plebs, all mostly illiterate, all having to work all the time (they had no weekends off, not even Sundays and only a few yearly festivals for rest). Many of them lived in the Roman equivalent of tenements, or scratched out a living on rented farm property. The vast majority owned next to nothing, had no education but what they picked up on the job, and had no time to consider much of anything except where their next meal and entertainment might be coming from.

If you have people who own nothing voting alongside people who own something, it’s just human nature that those with nothing are going to vote to force those with something to “share.”

That’s one reason why in early America one of the conditions for being eligible to vote was that you had to own property. In this way people “without so much as a farthing” wouldn’t be able to vote in a legislature of Robin Hoods — making laws that take from the rich and give to the poor. Plus it was thought that those with property would be more likely to have a vested interest in doing what was best for the community in which their property was located.

This came under attack however with the onset of the Revolution and particularly in the time between the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution. There were many reasons for objection – concerns about veterans, concerns about the effects of increasing the scope of the electorate, and even concerns about how valid property rights were as a means of determining quality voters.

Ben Franklin made an excellent point in the latter regard:

“Today a man owns a jackass worth 50 dollars and he is entitled to vote; but before the next election the jackass dies. The man in the mean time has become more experienced, his knowledge of the principles of government, and his acquaintance with mankind, are more extensive, and he is therefore better qualified to make a proper selection of rulers—but the jackass is dead and the man cannot vote. Now gentlemen, pray inform me, in whom is the right of suffrage? In the man or in the jackass?”

Ultimately, property ownership was deemed undesirable and was replaced by the paying of taxes as a qualification to vote, and as we all know, the franchise has expanded greatly from there  — and not altogether to the country’s benefit, I fear.

Because voting is not so much a right as it is a privilege, something to be conferred with care and received with gratitude and a sense of sober responsibility. Today it seems to be taken for granted, given and received as an entitlement,  a means of bribery, or of gaining power, a pain in the neck, or something other people will do, because it really doesn’t matter and “I’m just too busy doing my own thing.”

Everyone born in America today has always had it. We’ve never lived in a time when we didn’t. And yet… the entire institution seems to have been so corrupted, it’s hard to remember what a privilege it is. Not that the politicians are necessarly less upstanding today than previously, nor that the process is any less vitriolic, but that the people… a lot of people don’t really pay attention. Or is it that they’ve been distracted by things that don’t matter?

During all the hooplah with Tim Tebow last month, I read that he was number five on some list of the most influential people in America. I don’t recall who assembled the list, only that it wasn’t all athletes. Tebow was seven places (if I recall correctly) ahead of Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots. He was however, still five below the most influential person on the list… Lady Gaga.

Lady Gaga?

Originally the media, the fourth estate, was to work as a check for political processes. That’s long gone out the window, but worse, what I’m seeing today is the incessant barrage of messages, accusations, stories, speculuations, promises, claims, innuendo, and out and out lies. From the news outlets, the radio, Internet, and TV. Especially radio and TV. Whoever has the most ads wins, because the poplulace has heard those the most and simply through repetition of hearing has come to believe what those ads say.

Reminds me of the Hitler salute back in the beginning of his regime talked about in Eric Larsen’s In the Garden of Beasts:  How people at first resisted it, but after awhile, when it was constantly an issue, they gave in, even though they didn’t believe in it, didn’t really hold with it… but then after awahile, all that endless saluting and Heil Hitlering eventually brought them around to where they did believe it, and wanted to do it and bought into the whole package without ever realizing what exactly was happening.

I see that happening so much today. Everywhere. In everything. And it’s sobering.

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  Abraham Lincoln