Tag Archives: America

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.

 

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.

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…