“….the Roman government appeared everyday less formidable to its enemies, more odious and oppressive to its subjects. The taxes were multiplied with the public distress; economy was neglected in proportion as it became necessary…. If all the barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West: and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honour.” — Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
In New York City and Philadelphia “flashmobs” rob and vandalize newsstands and stores. This is a national phenomenon. In Chicago, the police department now won’t immediately respond to 911 calls if they involve post-burglaries, petty, or non-violent crimes. They’re too busy dealing with the daily carnage that is the nation’s highest murder rate, one that bested the number of military fatalities recorded in Afghanistan in 2012. When crazy people shoot up movie theaters and elementary school classrooms, we’re told it’s the gun’s fault. On a lighter note, the Wall Street Journal recently informed us that the demands of hip-hop fashion dictates that boys insist — despite the protestations of Mom, Dad, and school administrators — on wearing shorts to school in bitter winter weather. The girls prefer flip flops as their toes turn blue while waiting for the school bus. “Things fall apart; The centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world” (William Butler Yeats).
The schools are an administrative and intellectual wreck, and kids not knowing how to even dress themselves is a good metaphor for their current state. Those students, especially those of college age, are subject to that ironclad liberal orthodoxy of cultural Marxism commonly called political correctness, with resulting hate speech codes, the gist of which is that the kids are taught to despise America’s institutions, civic traditions, and the very constitutional sinews of free speech and opinion. Anyway, the latter is a moot point: because they learn so little history, soon their ignorance of the important aspects of the American experience will be total. College campuses are hideous islands of totalitarianism on a national landscape that is more and more reflecting their toxic example. “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity” (Yeats again).
We’re obsessed with protecting women from “domestic violence.” The U.S. Senate has passed the “Violence Against Women Act” and sent it to the House of Representatives. The media bludgeons us with related stories, and multiple government programs function to assist such unfortunate souls. This is driven by modern feminism, which also favors women serving on the frontlines in the boiling cauldron of war, where, according to a feature story in Rolling Stone magazine lately, the military suffers a raging epidemic of sexual assault. “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men” (George Orwell).
The U.S. Post Office recently announced that it is abolishing first class delivery on Saturdays beginning in August. The USPO seems to be taking a cue from the newspaper and network news business model of telling the public that it is essential to the public good, while at the same time skipping publication days, cutting back on home delivery, and shrinking its staffs as circulation, ad revenues, and ratings sink. A digitally-distracted America less and less buys the product (from both post office and media), especially the kids (see schools exegesis above). And the media-driven Obama cult-of-personality doesn’t sit well with half the body politic. Of course, the emperor’s cheerleader-eunuchs in the nation’s newsrooms don’t see it that way; marketing has never been a journalistic forte. Well, as for the post office, it won’t be losing our mail on Saturdays.
No matter. Cursive writing is leaving the classroom and those kids in short pants won’t be sending handwritten love letters to their “partners” and “significant androgynous others,” etc., anyway. If they do they’ll have to hire the equivalent of literate medieval monks to do it. Orwell wrote 65 years ago that “Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse.” What would he think today? As usual, Rome is the primary example. It progressed from Virgil, Horace, and Cicero to — over 300 years later — a very minor poet named Ausonius (the Richard Blanco of Late Antiquity), illiterate barbarian emperors and, well, darkness. Ask Ed Gibbon.
And, of course, literary culture erodes. Most new works of “literary fiction” aren’t worth reading because they are written by academics for academics. Most contemporary poetry is unfathomable or juvenile in its design. E.L. James’ wildly popular Fifty Shades of Grey series main motif is sadomasochism. And Philip Roth has “retired” after six decades of writing. Imagine that. Maybe our most respected living writer — albeit one pushing 80 — has turned his back on his work. Maybe he has nothing more to say. He once famously said that as a novelist his imagination couldn’t compete with the strange world he encountered on the front page of his daily New York Times, and that was long before the Times became the official newsletter of the Democratic Party. Hemingway blew his brains out. Roth, lacking Papa’s late-stage mental deterioration, is sanely content to watch the New York Mets, read, play with his new iPhone, and entertain friends. Good for him. Legions of readers who enjoyed his work wish him well, and he’ll be reread. But he is among the last of American writers who came of age and began their careers in the mid-20th century, a simpler time full of promise, and rewards for serious work.
H.L. Mencken said: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.” The 2012 Election makes the Sage of Baltimore’s quip ring true. All the bizarre political, sociological and economic theories that we have heard from the left for years are now being put into practice (in fact, President Obama showcased it in his Second Inaugural and State of the Union speeches). The result is a germinating dystopia sprouting from an executive branch contemptuous of the legislative and judicial branches of national government. Barack Obama is the embodiment of a country in willful decline in both domestic and foreign affairs, and he seems to relish his role. The president is a political Dr. Jack Kevorkian assisting our slow, national suicide.
Maybe some future Gibbon will contemplate the wreckage.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons