We can envy the men who lived in the 19th century, and even those who thrived in the first half of the 20th. The future lay before them, promising unimaginable wonders in science, technology, medicine, and industry, in man’s mastery of the world. There were, of course, wars and political scandals, and a few economic twists and bends that inconvenienced everyone. But, overall, despite the occasional impediments and transitory anxieties, the future lay unobstructed before men and that was a mood taken for granted.
In 1876, several months before Custer and his 7th Cavalry rode to their end at Little Big Horn, Alexander Graham Bell was granted Patent No. 174,465 for his working telephone. By 1883, Britain’s Gilbert and Sullivan were “corresponding” by telephone over what to do about the kinks in The Mikado.
The infant strides of telephony led ultimately to the Internet. Western civilization in this period had the hallmarks of a confident extrovert, a “reaching out” phenomenon that led to the moon-landings and the robotic exploration of Mars and other planets, not to mention unparalleled advances in medicine, agriculture, and leisure time.
In the beginning of the latter half of the 20th century, the sobering residue of the Depression and World War II was tenuously offset by the prosperity-induced complacency of the 1950s. In books, newscasts, and movies, nay-sayers and doomsters virtually cornered the market in heralding man’s malaise and predicting his ultimate demise. The optimism began to change into a cloying trepidation, an indistinct but very tangible uneasiness, marked by a loss of faith in what the future would bring and a tendency to wallow in guilt-ridden introversion. While science and technology seemed to bound forward at breathtaking speeds, unaffected by the change in mood, something was left behind to wither and gesture limply at the future.
The world seemed to be out of focus, and to grow fuzzier by the year, inebriated on some kind of alcohol that allowed people to see pink elephants and candy-striped zebras and shimmering Cities on the Hill surrounded by palm and date trees. But the pink elephants were wreaking havoc in china shops, the candy-striped zebras turned out to be anti-American academicians and intellectuals and vociferous but venal politicians, and the shimmering Cities on the Hill were being characterized as dehumanizing dystopias. Too many Americans developed a kind of cultural claustrophobia against for which there was no apparent cure.
As the century progressed from the 20th to the 21st, the world seemed to be imploding, bursting in on itself, with institutions, political and moral norms and even science collapsing in on what seemed to be a vacuum.
This was nowhere better dramatized than in the opening pages of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, when Eddie Willers is shocked to learn that the seemingly imperishable oak tree he had once revered was indeed perishable.
…He felt safe in the oak tree’s presence; it was a thing that nothing could change or threaten; it was his greatest symbol of strength.
One night, lightning struck the oak tree. Eddie saw it the next morning. It lay broken in half, and he looked into its trunk as into the mouth of a black tunnel. The trunk was only an empty shell; its heart had rotted away long ago; there was nothing inside – just a thin gray dust that was being dispersed by the whim of the faintest wind. The living power had gone, and the shape it left had not been able to stand without it.*
Our Western civilization, like the heart of Eddie Willers’ oak tree, has been rotted out for decades. We are just learning the extent and scale of that rot. We no longer feel comfortable in our own country, and civilization seems to be the object of numerous lightning strikes: the growth of collectivism and its various applications of statism; a tolerance for various kinds of mysticism, from a vengeful environmentalism to a belligerent Islam; the denigration of individualism and the enthronement of the mob, the group, and the tribe; group warfare for the spoils of statism, for the wealth looted from bewildered and defenseless producers.
What is the nature of the rot? Basically, it is the disparagement and abandonment of reason and the substitution of its numerous antipodes: multiculturalism, “diversity,” egalitarianism, militant subjectivism, organized envy, moral and economic relativism, irrationalism as a protected choice; systems of whim-worshipping non-absolutism. And an ingrained, inculcated anathema for reason, reality, individual rights, and capitalism, an anathema taught in our schools and flaunted in our culture from our theaters to Capitol Hill.
The worst mistake to make is to ascribe the incremental collapse of civilization to some all-powerful, ineluctable, omnipotent conspiratorial force of evil. Evil is not “satanic.” It is essentially a parasite. It feeds on weakness. Evil possesses the cunning of a moocher. Like jackals, vultures, and hyenas, it trails the greater predator, and moves in on the prey after it has been waylaid. It has no plan but to consume the scraps left by a greater predator.
The greater predator is anti-reason. Islam, Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, the Muslim Brotherhood – all the usual and numerous suspects we take for granted today, all the villains we rail against but whose origins we remain ignorant of but remain astounded by their callous indifference to reason – are merely the parasitical consumers of the living and the dead.
When men begin to grasp that the evil that has been enveloping them in stages for decades, and which promises to suffocate them, is not the product of some mystical power that cannot be opposed – when they grasp that their lives depend not on faith or random happenstance or on “good intentions” – but on a fealty to reason and the sanctity of their lives as volitional beings imbued with the capacity for reason, then they will be able to combat the evil. Then, and only then, will they recognize that evil can triumph only by default. It is otherwise powerless to enslave or destroy.
I include here some issues on which I have recently commented in response to various articles that have appeared, or which came to my attention and address the evil but which struggle to grasp the nature of the evil.
For example, the principal of a Massachusetts school decided that to honor its honor students would infringe upon or harm the “self-esteem” of students who had not made the honors roll. So he cancelled the school’s honors night. This is scoreless kids’ soccer games gone mad, and is an instance of how corrupting the notion of egalitarianism can be.
A Massachusetts principal has been criticized for canceling his school’s Honors Night, saying it could be ‘devastating’ to the students who worked hard, but fell short of the grades.
MyFoxBoston.com reports that David Fabrizio, principal of Ipswich Middle School, notified parents last week of his plan to eliminate the event.
“The Honors Night, which can be a great sense of pride for the recipients’ families, can also be devastating to a child who has worked extremely hard in a difficult class but who, despite growth, has not been able to maintain a high grade-point average,” Fabrizio penned in his first letter to parents, the station reported.
Fabrizio also said he decided to make the change because academic success can be influenced by the amount of support a student receives at home and not all students receive the same level of emotional and academic support at home.
The second instance concerns the common moral premises shared by statist Democrats, in particular President Barack Obama, and the morally rudderless Republican Party.
Speaking to Newsmax TV at CPAC 2013 on Thursday, [Rick] Santorum believes the nation’s leaders currently lack the ability to persuade Americans to aim for greatness.
“We have material wealth because of technology, yet people feel like they’re suffering now,” Santorum said. “I make the argument that’s because leaders and culture are leading people to think there’s nothing to suffer for and that there’s no great aim. We have to inspire people so they’re willing to make the sacrifices.”
However, Santorum is quick to point out that advancing a platform that allows individuals to succeed on their own should not mean abandoning those in need….
“If we just say we need less government and it’s everyone for himself, we won’t win elections,” Santorum said. “We have to do what our founders did, which is not just to take care of ourselves, but take care of our fellow Americans.”
Excuse me, but isn’t this what Obama has been trying to drill into our heads, too? Sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice? To “those in need”? But this has been the leitmotif of the Republican Party, ever since, say, the presidential race of 1912, which the Republicans handed the election to the statist Democrats and Woodrow Wilson because they said, “Me, too!” And I shudder to imagine how Santorum perceives the Founders, who in his mind must have been a pack of blithering, self-sacrificing altruists.
And what did the Founders strive to create between 1775 and 1787? A “democracy” or a constitutional republic? To hear it on the lips and in the words of virtually every columnist, politician and teacher today, it was a “democracy.” For example, one of the most prolific and perceptive conservative columnists today is Daniel Greenfield, who also regularly falls into the trap of advocating “democracy.” Arguing eloquently and effectively in his March 16th column, “Democracy Is Not The Answer,” that a policy of “exporting” democracy to countries that have little or no history or notion of limited government and individual rights, and in fact are prima facie culturally hostile to such ideas, a policy that has backfired on America more than once, he concludes:
The belief that we are meant to export democracy is a Cold War relic and the assumption that exporting democracy also exports our values is clearly wrong. It isn’t democracy that makes free people; it’s individual responsibility. Democracy with individual responsibility makes for a free nation. Democracy without individual responsibility is only another name for tyranny.
Democracy was never the answer, anywhere, because anywhere it has been tried, it has lead to tyranny. The etymological root meaning of the term is “mob rule,” as suggested by the Oxford English Dictionary (“popular government – people having rule, sway, or authority”). “Democracy” implies that no checks are made on the power or authority of the people or their elected officers or representatives. “Democracy” relieves both individuals and their elected representatives of individual responsibility and political responsibility. Our Founders, conscientious and well-read students of ancient and modern political history, understood the dangers inherent in democracy and labored to create a constitutional republic, that is, one which enumerated the powers of government and protected individual rights from populist or mob nullification. That is what our Bill of Rights -now under attack by the left and the Obama administration and defended haphazardly and ineffectually by conservatives – was all about. “Democracy” and “republic” are not synonyms, although the latter term has been largely appropriated by dictatorships (the various “people’s republics”).
Greenfield, in the same column, stresses that a nation’s citizens must be amenable to totalitarian rule before a totalitarian can take over. He points out that most prominently the Russians and Germans in the last century “democratically” elected themselves dictators, and so have the Argentines, Indians, Venezuelans, Chinese, and other populations (with much help from blatant thuggery). The ancient Greeks and Romans consistently elected themselves tyrants (democracy in action). Most recently, Muslims elected themselves the Brotherhood, an organization which basically wishes to make its election to power the last in Egypt. Muslims who voted against the Brotherhood ironically wanted also to continue subscribing to Islam, but a more “benign” kind that wouldn’t enforce Sharia to the extent that the Brotherhood proposed. Well, the Egyptians have learned the hard way that you can’t have your Islam and eat it, too.
But what kind of a person would vote for his own subjugation? Here is a hint, provided by Abigail Esman in her article, “Staggering Number of Women Converting to Islam” of March 12th.
The first thing the Dutch girl did once she’d converted to Islam was change her name – to Soumaya, she says, because “she was the first martyr. She was prepared to die for Allah.”
Soumaya, née Aphrodite, is one of a wave of tens of thousands of Westerners who convert to Islam every year, more than 75 percent of whom, astonishingly, are women. Equally surprising is the fact that most of these women gravitate to conservative Islamic groups – the more misogynistic and oppressive ones -insisting all the while that they feel “liberated” and “free.”
….That this fact is not explained to these women and young girls is what has many feminists concerned, not only about Muslim women in general, but particularly, about converts, who are, as it were, handed Islam in small, attractive bites, sweetened artificially and served up on flowered plates.
Most of these young women display little self-confidence or ability to define their own values and behavior – qualities that make them easily influenced by others, and susceptible especially to those who offer up a lifestyle option that relinquishes them from responsibility for their actions, that gives them a code of behavior and the ease of attributing what they do or wear or eat to God and not to self. [Italics mine.]
Esman’s description of women who voluntarily erase their own identities as individuals and trade them for being selfless ciphers of Islam can easily be applied to anyone who trades the responsibility for his own life and actions for being a ward and dependent of the state, indistinguishable from all other wards and dependents. These are the same individuals who display little self-confidence or the ability to define their own values and behavior; Islam, or Obama, for example, can relieve them of any kind of moral compass but the one that points to what others say and do, especially if that “other” is a man who hands them a Utopia in “small, attractive bites, sweetened artificially and served up on flowered plates,” as Obama has served up his socialist agenda to countless men whose only ambition is to be lead and rewarded for following.
Men who are willing to surrender their own selves and independence in the name of any collectivist “other-ism” necessarily will call for the sacrifice of others if that would mean “spreading the wealth” around, “a little” or “a lot.”
What neither the converts to Islam nor the converts to Obamaism grasp is that both systems are nihilist in means and ends. While they may derive some sadistic satisfaction from seeing their moral betters impoverished or extinguished, they will learn sooner or later that their own numberless masses can also be deemed expendable by their leader and the state.
The ongoing implosion we are witnessing today and will witness for some time to come can be checked only if men rediscover the role and necessity of reason that underlies our country and Western civilization and perpetuates them if we choose to. The only alternative is to perish from the falling debris, whether that consists of the First and Second Amendments or the smashed dreams and shattered hopes and the plundered wealth of the victims.
*Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand. 1957. New York: Dutton/Penguin 35th Anniversary Edition, 1992. p. 5
Family Security Matters Contributing Editor Edward Cline is the author of the Sparrowhawk series of novels set in England and Virginia in the decades leading up to the American Revolution, and also of Whisper the Guns and First Prize. His essays, books reviews, and other nonfiction have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and other periodicals. He is a frequent contributor to Rule of Reason and The Dougout.