…they decided that to eat state corn in the city was better than to sweat on the land…Sloth combined with superstition…Wealth mounted, but did not spread.
A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.
– Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Volume III: Caesar and Christ
Volume III of The Story of Civilization has been quoted here before and we will spare you the usual introduction of the book and its author except to note that by any measure it remains a landmark achievement in human letters. While a scholarly work, Durant makes history and its great people and ideas accessible to any regular and enthusiastic reader which if you’re reading this probably includes you. Today’s Thought concerns the final decline of the Roman Empire and its parallels to the America of today might raise some eyebrows.
…they decided that to eat state corn in the city was better than to sweat on the land
America is not at the point where the government is passing out corn to us, but we’re getting there. There was a time when Americans expected their government to get out of their way so they could build a life for themselves, but that time has passed. More and more, people are expecting our government to do more and more things for them. From regulating our health care system to municipal police departments that are armed like Panzer divisions to cavity searches before boarding airplanes, us Americans are tolerating more and more intrusions into our lives.
There are other parallels with Rome, too: our divide between rich and poor, our consuming wars, an economy anchored in excess taxes and regulations. Wealth is mounting but not spreading, not because the rich should give their money away, but because our economy still does not work for everyone.
A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within…
This was the way of the Romans and left unchecked it will be the way of America, too. The past is a tricky animal. On the one hand, we must learn from it and not repeat its mistakes. On the other hand, we must let go of it, too, and not let it define us. America is doing neither. We are repeating the mistakes of failed nations and instead of letting go of the past, we are allowing it to control us by bickering over statues of people who died over a century ago.
The Great American Experiment can flourish again, but it isn’t going to be easy. We must be willing to overcome ourselves, both individually and collectively. We must expect better and we must expect more, both of ourselves and the people we elected to govern us.
The Thought for the Day runs regularly. Quotes are from Gaylon’s private stock.