Summary: On 4 July 2006 I posted Forecast: Death of the American Constitution. Shocking then, but these past 8 years have made the Republic’s peril obvious to all who care. So we can skip through to the last section, reposted below. What does the future hold for America?
“There was a dream that was Rome. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish, it was so fragile.”
— Marcus Aurelius, in the movie “Gladiator” (2000)
The predominate reaction of the Romans to the death of the Republic was resignation, as seen in the popular philosophies of the Empire: Stoicism, Epicureanism, Hedonism, and Christianity. How will Americans react when they realize that the Constitution has died? Reform, rebellion, or resignation?
The coming years might test America more than anything in our past, including the Revolutionary and Civil wars. America might lose both what defines it and what we hold most dear: our Constitution, our vast wealth, and our role as global hegemon. This transition will be like a singularity in astrophysics, a point where the rules break – beyond which we cannot see.
Such trials appear throughout history. Consider Russia in 1942. Ruled by a madman. Their government had betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions of their own people, and reduced the nation to poverty. Most of their generals were dead, their armies were in full retreat, and vast areas were controlled by a ruthless invader. The mark of a great people is the ability to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people’s behavior in WWII.
I doubt we will fall into such peril. But no matter what happens, we need not despair.
Mrs. Powel of Philadelphia asked Dr. Franklin “What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” “A republic, if you can keep it” replied the Doctor.
— entry of 18 September 1787 in the Papers of Dr. James McHenry on the Federal Convention of 1887 (signer the Constitution, our 3rd Secretary of War, & namesake of Fort McHenry)
Our wealth is just things (“hardware”), an inheritance from past generations. What we lose we can work to replace. Our aspirations to global hegemony were revealed as a mirage in Vietnam and Iraq, lasting less than two generations after WWII.
Our culture is a collection of discordant ideas, mixing lofty and base elements in a manner despised by much of the world – a disgust easily understood by watching our TV shows and movies, or listening to some of our popular music.
Our Constitution is just an idea inherited from the founders. It’s our second Republic, after the Articles of Confederation. If it falls, its death will give us the experience to do better with the next one.
We are America. We are strong because of our ability to act together, to produce and follow leaders. We are strong due to our openness to other cultures and ability to assimilate their best aspects. We are strong due to our ability to adapt to new circumstances, to roll with defeat and carry on.
“People, ideas and hardware, in that order!”
— the late John R. Boyd (Colonel, USAF), “A Discourse on Winning and Losing”, August 1987
We will be what we want to be. The coming years will reveal what that is.
“There was a dream that was Rome. It shall be realized. These are the wishes of Marcus Aurelius.”
— Maximus Decimus Meridius, in the movie “Gladiator”
Other Independence Day Posts
- Forecast: Death of the American Constitution, 4 July 2006
- A report card for the Republic: are we still capable of self-government?, 4 July 2008
- What we should Americans do on the 4th of July?, 4 July 2010
- Advice from the past about ways to celebrate Independence Day, 3 July 2013
For More Information
Reference pages, links to posts about America:
19 thoughts on “Let’s discuss the future of America while we celebrate Independence Day”
Editor of FM,
Years ago when this blog was, I think, overseen by an American who chose to use ‘Fabius Maximus’ for his own reasons, I would often take the role of Cato the Censor to, humorously I hope, debate certain topics with him (the Roman, Fabius Maximus, was a generation older than Cato the Censor at least, and died when Cato was quite young)… usually pretending, as Cato, to be appealing to the ghost of Fabius Maximus over some point of obscure Roman-ness, lost since his death (much to my/Cato’s disapproval). As today is July 4th, and you seem quite maudlin… I’ll post as Cato the Censor to offer you a different prospective.
Dear Fabius Maximus,
Marcus Porcius Cato here, known by some in Rome currently as Cato Censorius (a title I don’t care for, as it’s intended as an insult… akin to calling me, “Cato the Taxman” in this language). You are dead, Fabius Maximus, and perhaps don’t remember me… I had wild red hair, and green eyes, and although you joked aloud that I looked too much like a Gaul/Celt to be Roman, you pointed out the terrible scars and wounds on my face and body, earned fighting in the Legion, as proof of the Gods favor: For how else could any man survive such injuries and yet still return to fight again for Our Republic?
I wonder, Fabius Maximus, whether it was the Favor of the Gods, or rather a Curse to survive to see most of what we thought defined us as Romans, abandoned and mocked by those too young, or too effete to have fought the Punic’s. I try to warn them that Carthage was a threat before Hannibal, and continues to be a threat to Rome still… but all the usual factions, you remember them, think only of their part of the wealth paid by Carthage for peace, and nothing of the Great Romans, like yourself, who died winning that peace. They care not a whit that the tribute doesn’t repay a fraction of the Republic’s debts and expense to beat Carthage, and rather than rebuild what was destroyed or pay what is owed, they bicker over “their share”, as they claim the Republic’s tribute is not the Republics, but rather a sum of portions to which each citizen is ENTITLED their part, to spend however this or that faction pleases… Whenever I remind the Senate that, “Si vis pacem, para bellum!”, I am ridiculed, or lectured for lacking ‘compassion’! Compassion! As if the Republic was forged from such luxurious sentiments! But I digress…
Oh ghost of Fabius Maxius, you were not entirely wrong about me having Celt blood, for through it I inherited the Seer’s Arts. (How else could you, who are dead, read what I write?). But although I have the Sight, I understand very little of it, which leads me to appeal to you, and other men Wiser then I, to interpret my dreams and visions. And the latest was terrifying!
In my dream/vision I was met by a poet from the future, who told me our beloved Republic would destroy itself a couple of centuries from now, and become a great Empire. “An Empire?” I said, “we have no Kings in Rome… surely a Republic must have a King before it can have an Emperor? Perhaps you mean, “dictator”, as in times of war our Republic appoints a dictator for a time…” You understand Fabius Maximus, you yourself were a ‘dictator’ for a spell, but you only accepted the position as a matter of necessity.
“No,” this future poet said, “the Republic’s Legions will conquer so many foreign people, in such far flung and distant places, that Rome will be perpetually at War. Either civil war, or war elsewhere will require many, many Legions…” Then I interrupted. “Poet! What you say is preposterous! Legions must eat. If the Republic’s Legions are off fighting, who’d be left to tend to our farms? Old men and boys?”. To this the Poet said something beyond understanding… He said: “Marcus Porcius Cato, Men like yourself do not understand ‘Empire’, and your distant namesake will fall on his own sword rather than see your Republic become an Empire… (this, Fabius Maximus, made me quite proud). But Romans, or any citizens of a Republic, when they become TOO rich, and TOO greedy, and their Legions are TOO strong, soon become corrupted by their collective power. They are no longer FREE Men, bound together by shared Laws and Obligations, voluntarily for their own collective protection and benefit… That is what, “Citizen” means to men like yourself and Fabius Maximus. Honestly, do you not agree, Cato the Taxman, that most of your fellow Romans would rather live off of the conquest and toil of others, rather than WORK THEIR OWN FARMS?” (To this, Fabius, I was forced to concur)
“Cato Censorius! History will barely remember the man, Marcus Porcius Cato! No. Even the WORD, “censor” will change in meaning. When the citizens of a powerful Republic come to desire Empire, Men such as yourself, whom none imagine will submit to a King or Emperor, are exiled or killed. Nono! I see you are about to argue that YOU were elected several times, but Carthage hasn’t yet been destroyed, so the Citizens fear still outweighs their greed and lust for power.”
Then this Poet in my dream, Fabius Maximus, read something from a drama, which I remember exactly… and he said, “Consider this, Roman and Republican! If you find what this fellow is saying to be reasonable, or honorable… if ANY should admire this soliloquy, it represents a choice: Remain as you are, and CONFORM without complaint, or be Free and LOSE. Here is the quote, Fabius Maximus: it is long, I apologize. But I need your advice about what my dream, and the following, mean.
“What would you have me do? Seek for the patronage of some great man, and like a creeping vine on a tall tree crawl upward, where I cannot stand alone? No thank you! Dedicate, as others do, poems to pawnbrokers? Be a buffoon in the vile hope of teasing out a smile on some cold face? No thank you! Eat a toad for breakfast every morning? Make my knees callous, and cultivate a supple spine, wear out my belly groveling in the dust? No thank you! Scratch the back of any swine that roots up gold for me? Tickle the horns of Mammon with my left hand, while my right too proud to know his partner’s business, takes in the fee? No thank you! Use the fire God gave me to burn incense all day long under the nose of wood and stone? No thank you!
Shall I go leaping into ladies’ laps and licking fingers?-or-to change the form- Navigating with madrigals for oars, my sails full of the sighs of dowagers? No thank you! Publish verses at my own expense? No thank you! Be the patron saint of a small group of literary souls who dine together every Tuesday? No I thank you! Shall I labor night and day to build a reputation on one song, and never write another? Shall I find True genius only among Geniuses, palpitate over little paragraphs, and struggle to insinuate my name in the columns of the Mercury? No thank you! Calculate, scheme, be afraid, love more to make a visit than a poem, seek introductions, favors, influences? No thank you! No, I thank you! And again I thank you!
But… To sing, to laugh, to dream to walk in my own way and be alone, free, with a voice that means manhood… to cock my hat where I choose- At a word, a Yes, a No, To fight or write. To travel any road under the sun, under the stars, nor doubt if fame or fortune lie beyond the bend- Never to make a line I have not heard in my own heart; yet, with all modesty to say: “My soul, be satisfied with flowers, with fruit, with weeds even; but gather them in the one garden you may call your own.” So, when I win some triumph, by some chance, render no share to Caesar- in a word, I am too proud to be a parasite, and if my nature wants the germ that grows towering to heaven like the mountain pine, or like the oak, sheltering multitudes- I stand, not high it may be-but alone!”
― Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
Sincerely and happy 4th of July,
A. Scott Crawford (Cato the Censor)
Yep, you’re a leftist. You can’t hide from your words. They ooze collectivism like a pimple does puss.
Fabius Maximus the great delayer. Roman dictator whose strategic claim to fame was wearing out his enemies with questionable tactics.
I see now why you have so many “visitors” and few commenters.
I wouldn’t worry about the constitution. It’ll be just fine. Americans will make sure of that.
Almost nothing you have said is accurate. Sad, but probably not treatable.
There are 33,085 comments on the FM website since 2007. Like the ones on these, some of my favorites:
69: A note on the green religion, one of the growth industries in America
Some of the many about climate change. Watch the Leftist’s scream in horror:
Some from last year:
My favorites this year:
You are a great writer, but why so touchy about comments? You spent that long pasting in comments to bury loony Ant ?
“The god-king has betrayed a
fatal flaw: Hubris. Easy to taunt, easy
to trick. Before wounds and
weariness have taken their toll, the
mad king throws the best he has at
us. Xerxes has taken the bait.”
(– from the film “300” (2006) }
You don’t see anything wrong with any of his comments? He is a good writer but nothing stands out as you read his words? :)
These things are cultural. You might be from a milder community. In many realms debates are full-blooded contact sports: in academia, in politics, and in many parts of the business world (finance, marketing). There is no one ur-standard.
The key is not to take it personally. One of the few rules I moderate comments for is personal attacks. Still to what’s said, not who has said it.
As for these kinds of complaints about style (in effect, “Johnny pushed me”), in my experience they occur when people lack a basis in logic or fact for a stronger reply.
I respond to all reasonable comments, even ones which are — like Ant’s — looney.
The FM website is extensively cross-indexed. With WordPress’s fine editing tools, making lists of posts like this is easy.
Also, looking at the posts which generate the most comments was an interesting exercise. What is the common element? That is the kind of thing marketing experts recommend. Unfortunately I see no common element in these posts.
My guess is that posts that attract comments depend on what issue is hot at that time. I wrote about climate change before it was “hot” with the public. Then it was hot, and got lots of comments. Now it’s not, and gets few.
Anyway this has been mildly amusing but I just happened to click his link searching out if curiosity over something else.
I read a few posts… happened to think he was your typical hypocritical pompous ass based on how he responded to people and the fun began. Now to his credit he seems civil and anyone who thinks Krugman is bad news can’t be all bad… liberal or not.
Just for the record… his “proof” that liberals have gone after him proves nothing. Not all liberals are goosestepping to the same tune on every dancefloor.
He’s “vague” like that if you haven’t noticed.
Fabius has nuanced views on an array of topics…but he is trying to communicate them to a broad audience. The blog is intended for the every man….not just those of us in Ivory Towers. I think this is why he reads as vague and confusing sometimes. When I first started reading I thought he was being intentionally hypocritical and contradictory at times. I no longer believe that is the intent. It just comes with the territory when you’re trying speak from a platform as a generalist. I know from experience.
I appreciate his intention to avoid getting pigeon holed….or recruited into a tribal faction as he might put it. Frankly I think it’s a noble attempt to create a third discourse.
I believe he’s earnest because he seems to have come out of the Boyd circle.
So e additional detail as follow-up to your kind comment.
The average post on the web is, I’ve read, about 300 words. Usually expressing an emotion or reaction.
Here we look at complex matters on the edge of the known — in a thousand word or so. Only so much can be done in that small space, esp when acknowledging the complexities & unknowns. In contrast to the usual in the Internet tribal grunts “we right, others. Wrong”.
Readership drops fast with length. Average duration of readers on a post is roughly 70 seconds, per Sitemeter. Does anyone know that number for other websites?
So there is a hard upper limit on what can be, forcing trade-offs when writing.
The “collectivism” quote from our crackpot-of-the-day Ant identifies him as an Ayn Rand festishist, and involuntarily provides us with superb evidence of just why America has fallen into decline.
As FM has pointed out on many occasions, America’s great achievements are all collective. Starting with our decision to unite as a nation out of 13 separate colonies (instead of 13 separate nations — try that alternative history on for size and think about how well it would’ve worked out), America created the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, the nationwide superhighway and electrical grids, along with nationwide compulsory K-12 schooling, not by going it alone as independent loners, but by working together. Great achievements like the victory in WW II against the German and Japanese tyrannies weren’t won by one guy in a polyester suit with a star spangled shield, as much as silly films like Captain America would like you to believe that. America’s big achievements were all attained by coming together as a people and working collectively for a common goal.
America needs more collectivism right now, not less. This mania for “going it alone” is tearing our country apart. Cities in trouble, like Detroit and New Orleans and Baltimore and St. Louis, need help from the rest of our cities. States with poor social services and crumbling infrastructure need help from states with excess wealth. States with low education need help from states with great school systems.
Like most Ayn Rand fetishists, I’m betting Ant lives in a deep red state that receives much more from the federal government in services than it pays in taxes. I’m also willing to bet that Ant was the recipient of vast amounts of “collectivist” benefits (like K-12 education, a modern highway system, clean municipal water system, working municipal sewage system, outage-free power grid, low-cost student loans) that got him where he is today.
The sad reality of Ayn Rand is that she wound up taking Social Security benefits despite all her nutty Objectivist rhetoric about individualism and the alleged glory of selfishness. At the end of the day, when the rubber met the road, Ayn Rand’s actions showed that her philosophy was bullshit. If we scrape away the barnacle layers of self-delusion around nutters like Ant, we’ll find the same thing.
Personally, I’ve always thought Rand’s “Objectivism” to be a sort of selective rehashing of Aristotle’s Ethics, and not particularly original. (I don’t really care much for her fiction, although I like what she poached from Aristophanes.) Still, I find it interesting someone who’d chosen to call themselves Thomas More would criticize others zeal for ‘going it alone’! LOL. The man was quite alone when he lost his head, and was undeniably alone in his own era in terms of Moral Integrity and bravery.
If I remember correctly, T. More is quoted as writing/saying that he lived in an era of such public corruption and unapologetic dishonesty and falsehood… that should any public man be found who acted with simple decency and refused to lie unnecessarily, that such a person would be considered a SAINT. No doubt T. More would be horrified to learn he himself has been Canonized by the Catholic church, and is now: Saint Thomas More, patron Saint of Writers! heh. Erasmus would laugh, and argue his friend deserved Sainthood for creating Utopia…
This said, Saint More, I think you overstate your claims about “American” collectivisms various achievements. Certainly MANY of the great achievements accomplished in the United States were Public, collective efforts. The United States republic has generally aspired to define itself as a government based on a principle of voluntary collectivism (with mixed seriousness and marginal success). Yet to extend this ideal to the point of claiming ALL of ‘Americas’ great achievements were due to some vague and all-encompassing “collective” purpose and effort is over-generalization, and moreover undervalues the various INDIVIDUAL labors of a particular collective effort by claiming for the Genus the credit earned in sweat and blood by the Species’ themselves.
Additionally, it is worth observing the difference between Public and Private collectivism, as this seems a subject at the heart of any number of political disputes in our era. Do I claim one is necessarily superior to the other? Not really. I would argue that the issue is so reliant on context and circumstance that thinking of one without the other is rarely productive or useful. A person who described themselves as an Ayn Rand fetishist might demand that the U.S. space effort is now better off having been largely delegated to the Private sector… Which I’d say was a naive, foolish belief to risk such a vital National Infrastructure/Asset over should the experiment fail. To those who’d point to the U.S. power grid as an outstanding Public collective achievement… I’d remind them that Thomas Edison, whom most contemporaries described as an independent loner, was so central to the widespread development and adoption of electricity as a substitute for gas and coal, that claiming credit on behalf of American Collectivism sans Edison, would mark one as lacking a sufficient Political Education… which wouldn’t bother most Americans, but would be a disaster for anyone hoping to be promoted to the status of a full Bolshevik. lol.
Finally, I’m from Detroit. I assure you neither Detroit, nor “Detroit-ers” NEED help from other Cities (outside of Michigan, obviously). Our own incompetent and corrupt Political Machine and city ‘bosses’ spent decades chasing away every source, every iota, of potential tax revenue, and only staved off bankruptcy as long as they did by making their (OUR) City a Vassal (or whore, if you prefer) to other Cities political interests (Chicago vis a vis water, New York with the sub-prime mess, Toronto as a place to export half of Ontario’s untreated toxic waste and sewage, and etc.). Going into financial receivership is the best thing that could have happened to Detroit, as it effectively castrates the Political Machines bosses… those who aren’t already in prison at any rate. It was the bastard offspring of the Machine that ruined Detroit long before bankruptcy… so, thank you Thomas More for writing Detroit’s number on other Cities bathroom stalls, as I’m sure your advocacy was intended as a kindness… Detroit IS indeed a run down, sad, and tragic Lady; But what Detroit doesn’t need is more ‘free-love’, what we need is a Pimp who won’t tolerate any more free rides for Johns, Jimmy’s, Bill’s, Hillary’s, or Barry’s!
Best, and happy 4th/5th
A. Scott Crawford
Thomas “less not” More,
That’s cute the way you conflate socialistic collectivism with free association and free markets. America didn’t create much of anything.. Americans did.
And some of those in your list aren’t something Id be too quick to be proud of if I were you.
As for my thing for Ayn? Well I’ve never went out of my way to read anything on her. I am however a big fan of liberty for all equally, without force. If that makes me a dirty bird in a government loving shills eyes, cover me with crude.
Oh and the SS comment is just silly. She was forced to pay in, she’s just taking back what was hers, to a great extent.
Now that’s not something I subscribe to but surely you have something greater than that?
I for one won’t be taking a SS “retirement” if I have anything to do with it and I do. I’ve also brought my income to a level that I won’t have to pay tax. No more supporting wars or the state if I can help it.
I’m trying to be the change I want to see but I don’t hold anything against those that feel they have few other choices but to stay within the system while they work to change it.
Since you worship at the state church often I suppose you can say the same when it comes to being the change you want to see. :)
Happy Independence from Individual Freedom Day to you.
I have only recently started reading your posts- I wanted to say THANKS for specifically noting the Nate Silver post above.
I can see why some on the left and some on the right think you are on their side. After having read your Nate Silver post I thought it would be a good idea for me to take a look at the interface of Science/Technology and Policy once again.
Naturally, I let my subscription to Science go a few years ago so I can’t access this post: “Mapmakers and navigators, facts and values“, O. Edenhofer and J Minx, Science, 4 July 2014.
That was an interesting article in Science. It opens with a ringing defense of the IPCC, and the “Summary for Policy Makers”, without mentioning any of the specific objections by critics. They then advocated even further expansion of the IPCC’s scope:
By scientists as “map-makers” they mean “scientists as judges of public policy”. Considering their abject failure of the IPCC to establish credibility with the public in most nations, expansion of its scope seems quite inappropriate at this time.
Perhaps the IPCC should focus on simplier tasks:
Bringing these weaknesses to the public’s attention is the IPCC’s inability to confront the pause in warming, except with brief (almost dismissive) mentions — widely considered an embarrassment. Meanwhile climate scientists have gone from frequent mention of the pause, to discussion of its causes and forecasts of its likely duration.
Thanks for the speedy review of the paper!
It’s been a couple of years since I had any responsibility for design reviews at different stage gates. Under NO circumstances would I have had the same group of experts who developed status reports sign off on moving to the next phase of development. An independent group of experts were assigned that responsibility so I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment- you don’t get to be the judge of how well your map aligns to my reality. In fact, their suggesting it leaves me a bit uneasy.
If I happened to be the King, who had been funding these expeditions into unchartered territories for 20 years, I would be asking my Winston Churchill of the day if he would like yet another job: His assessment of the existing process.
“Under NO circumstances would I have had the same group of experts who developed status reports sign off on moving to the next phase of development. An independent group of experts were assigned that responsibility”
That’s a point that has, imo, received far too little attention. Not only has this methodological weakness diminished the credibility of the IPCC, but also the resulting conflicts of interest have led to further problems.
Contrast this with the approval process required by the FDA for a new version of aspirin: double-blind studies reviewed by independent panels. Policies to restructure the world economy to save the world should have an even higher standard of proof. But activists disagree, and so a quarter-century of activism has produced almost no public policy changes.
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