So You Think It Can’t Happen Here?

The attitude that often kills or harms people is expressed by the statement, “It can’t happen to me.” This applies to societies as well. It has probably never applied to any society better than the United States of America. To most Americans, it’s inconceivable that civilization as we know it could ever even decline — much less collapse. On the one hand, polls reveal that people are almost always afraid, and often negative. Yet nobody seems to assume that the economy won’t get better. “The real estate market will come back,” they assume — once the government thinks of the right interventionist policy to make everything all right again. “Unemployment will go down,” — so long as government figures out the right way to make that happen. Again, the contradiction is noteworthy. Poll after poll shows government officials enjoy almost no respect from 80 to 90 percent of the American people; yet, a vast majority think that government is going to get us out of this mess.

How well is that working out for you, America?

At times like this, I find it best to study history. On the one hand, it’s reassuring to see how in the end, rationality and goodness generally prevail over evil and stupidity. However, evil and stupidity certainly have their day as well, especially when a majority of people fall prey to the wrong ideas. As just one example, consider what happened to the ancient peoples of Britain. Britain first became civilized several thousand years ago when the Romans invaded. The invasion wasn’t nice, but Romans brought science, roads, medicine (the best available at the time), and all kinds of good things to the previously barbaric British tribes. As Rome declined and eventually fell, undercut by a combination of social decline and government corruption, the early British society (known as Celts) suffered terribly. Historian Rebecca Fraser writes, “After 400 years of Roman occupation, the wild Celts whose ancestors had been those fierce, half-naked charioteers had been replaced by courteous Latin-speaking Roman settlers. As Romano-Celts worshipping the gentle God of the Christians who abhorred violence, they were helpless against the [invading] Angles and Saxons.”

Eventually, the defeated Romano-Celts regrouped and, over a period of centuries, became the British Empire, which in turn gave rise to the United States of America — and you know the rest. But those initially conquered Romano-Celts went through absolute hell for many centuries before rising again, as a society. Their currency and economy collapsed. Their children and grandchildren lived under far worse conditions than their parents and grandparents had. It happens. What made them vulnerable? Rebecca Fraser nailed it: Their worship of the idea that self-defense and self-assertion are wrong. You cannot master nature, and your destiny, while being humble at the same time. This is one thing that’s killing America. Americans, like the Romans, are an outstanding society at building roads, innovating new technologies, and taking secular civilization to previously unimagined heights. Yet within that society there is a fatal contradiction: Christianity. It’s not the religion itself so much as the idea underlying it. The idea underlying Christianity is that you should turn the other cheek when attacked. This is what the Romano-Celts did in early Britain, and their reward was being overrun by savages who burned their homes, destroyed their roads and bridges, and ruined their economy.

Americans think it cannot happen here. Granted, the concrete specifics of how it could happen are impossible to predict and unpleasant to contemplate. But I sometimes wonder if the raging Islamic militants who are gradually invading our homeland, destroying our buildings, paralyzing our airports and who knows what else yet to come are really just the twenty-first century version of the savages who invaded and ultimately brought down the Roman Empire. It didn’t happen overnight. The United States is, or at least once was, much better than the Roman Empire. The United States protected individual rights to an extent not yet seen before in human history, and created greater material prosperity than anything else previously seen. However, the parallel remains. The Roman Empire was the greatest civilization to date at the time, at least in terms of material prosperity and development. Yet it didn’t stand forever. And it came down gradually, first from within. By the time the savages and religious fanatics took it over, the society had long since lost its ability to produce and progress.

I don’t think the decline of human life on earth is inevitable. This is because man has free will. He can choose to think, or not. He can choose to adopt rational ideas, or not. He can operate on the rational ideas of capitalism and individual rights, as the United States in particular did for a century or so, and then gradually abandon them. When abandoning them leads to a general corruption of both the government and the society, he can reverse course and reestablish the right ideas. It didn’t happen in the United States. Now, it’s showing up in our economy. Our economy has stopped growing and may actually reverse. Everything that the government should not do, it’s doing — and now it’s pledging to start restricting freedom of speech and other precious liberties, as well. We have still done nothing to respond to an attack on our country a decade ago, and it’s only a matter of time before we’re attacked again, especially with the current leader of the country saying all such attacks are our own fault. Even the Romans didn’t go that far.

On our current course, further decline and eventual collapse are inevitable. They’re actually underway. That’s the bad news. The good news is that course reversals are always an option, for societies as well as individuals. America, and the world as we know it, need not go the way of the Roman Empire and the Dark Ages that followed. It’s not inevitable, unless we cling to the wrong ideas of socialism and self-sacrifice that at present are the law of the land.