As I listen to the album Waiting For the Punchline by the ever incredible Extreme, I’m reminded a little of the fact that many these days are waiting for a punchline for the joke that has become American politics. Next week we will (hopefully) all be celebrating Independence Day. We’ll fire up the grill, munch a burger, raise a cold one to Lady Liberty, and shoot off some fireworks, with perhaps a semi-nostalgic feeling or two about the founding of the country—Yeah ‘Murica!
What are we celebrating though? Sure we pay homage to the Founding Fathers and those who have served our nation in civil and military duty. But the America they built is passing away. Virtually every institution of our society has eroded: education, political process, medicine, industry, popular culture, religion, economy—all of them have suffered detriment. It’s what happens when people exchange freedom for license, liberty for libertinism.
Edward Gibbon, in his seminal The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, outlined five major reasons for the collapse of the Roman Empire (and protracted, ostensibly other civilizations). They are as follows:
1) Destruction of the sanctity of the home, accompanied by the rapid increase in divorce. The family was seen as the basis for the Roman state, and was sacred, despite what Hollywood portrays.
2) Increasingly higher taxes and the spending of public monies on “bread and circus.” Currency issues and mismanaged funds caused the former, resulting in the latter—public distractions and abused welfare could not continue.
3) The “mad craze” for pleasure and sport, with sport becoming more brutal every year. Generally more people, but especially the wealthy, sought all manner of gratification. Gladiatorial matches became more elaborate and bloody spectacles of all kinds were held.
4) The building of gigantic armaments and increasing militarization of the state, while the enemy is within—the decadence of the people. The Roman army expanded in an attempt to protect its borders, now taking on more foreign conscripts. More Romans expected the Empire to meet their needs. Christians were killed for spectacle in the coliseum.
5) Decay of religious faith deteriorating into form without substance. More people sought initiation in mystery cults with exotic gods, many of which had orgiastic and debauched rites.
Now, much of this is based on the state of Rome during the crisis of the third century. The western empire only survived until 476 because of the aforementioned reasons. It created circumstances for the weakening of the west and its vulnerability to “barbarians,” many of whom had served in the Roman army. Still many others had been given “refuge” and citizenship in an empire that could not subsidize them.
Now, does any of this sound familiar? It should. We’re a much younger nation that Rome was when it fell, and yet we approach these criteria with light speed. Doubt me? Consider how America shapes up:
1) Traditional definitions of marriage and family are being reshaped before us. The divorce rate is roughly 55% and climbing.
2) It goes without saying taxes have steadily risen, with small businesses paying as much as 30% and more of their profit. The average middle class professional pays up to 25% of his or her income in taxes. Our welfare and social security systems are being abused daily with many people utilizing them who are more than capable of holding down on a job, but have learned to work the system.
3) We live in a society increasingly bent on instant gratification and what makes us “feel good,” not to mention that we crave our brutal sports (football, MMA).
4) For all the respect I have for the military, few will dispute that the DOD and Pentagon have expanded “discretionary” military spending, nor deny that we have been in an “ever-war” in the Middle East since 2003. And yet, the real enemies seem to be members of the so-called “deep state,” many of whom are our elected officials. Add to that growing apathy and decadence in our own populus and you begin to see the pieces of the frightening puzzle.
5) The decay of religious faith in American society is demonstrable on a number of fronts. We have moved so far from the religious roots and foundations of this country that it is no longer the defining philosophy. Where once the classical paradigms prevailed, a spiritual buffet of dizzying assortment sits in its place. Even most churches have traded solid doctrine and theology for bands, light shows, and pithy homily.
How do we avert the destruction of American civilization? I give to you Alexis deTocqueville’s observations on America in 1831 from Democracy in America to consider:
“I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors...; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom. The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.”
It will take a revolution of sorts, one of the heart, not one of arms.