Asking what caused our decline and how to fix it

Speaking to Americans about the cause of our problems is like blowing a dog whistle for them. It’s a message we can’t hear. It is too sad for us to bear.

A fitting sentiment since we have burned the dreams of the Founders and 250 years of Americans.

With Deepest Sympathy and a flower
By izzzy71. AdobeStock-326515098.

I have written hundreds of posts about the decline and probable fall of the American regime (the second Republic, based on the Constitution).  This comment by Daniel to my latest – A new beginning for America – is an example of the responses by readers (better expressed than most).

“I’ve yet to see a good description of how we got to our current situation nor a clear road-map of how to get out of it. Did I miss it?”

Daniel asks two questions, both worth discussing.

How did we get into this hole?

As always in the real world, there are many ways to answer this. The obvious answer is we do not and cannot know, It is too majestic and massive a movement to stop or even understand. Edward Gibbon wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776 – 1300 years after its fall, and took six long volumes to do so (the Penguin abridged version is 767 pages). While it is often considered the first good draft of that history, now we understand much more than Gibbon did – but lack a full understanding of this vast event.

We lack the perspective on the Republic’s death provided by distance in time and emotional involvement. Gibbon had both, yet could produce only tentative answers. I do not attempt to even that much. The operational useful insight is, in my opinion, that the decline is caused by our unwillingness to carry the burden of self-government. Going to voting booths and working the Republic’s political machinery is too much work and responsibility for many Americans, let alone risking our “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor.”

Historians will debate endlessly about the causes of our evolution from citizens to subjects. At some point they will agree on what is its Final Cause. But I doubt that even if we knew this answer today, that would not help us.

How do we get out of this hole?

Hollywood has encouraged us to believe that stories often have a happy ending. Every sitcom has the father or hero (or, more often, the heroine or family’s wise earth-mother) find a solution. Films show horrific problems solved by blowing up the bad guy’s lair – or the bad guy (after a one-on-one-fight with the hero or heroine).

But in the real world, sometimes the good people lack the wit to win. Sometimes they lack the will needed to win. Often they lose. That is a commonplace of history. That is the story of the Roman Republic, the Founder’s model for America. The fall of the Second Republic is not certain. But as I explain it is, in my opinion, the smart bet.

“Choice. The problem is choice.”
— Neo in The Matrix Reloaded.

All I can do is help see through the mists to the new regime that lies ahead of us, and give a warning. Which we will certainly ignore.

Warning sign - AdobeStock-315993220
By Omeris. AdobeStock-315993220.

For More Information

Ideas! See my recommended books and films at Amazon. For something different, see “The Swallow – a story of the WWII Night Witches.”

I highly recommend Martin van Creveld’s new book, Seeing into the Future: A Short History of Prediction. “From the ancients watching the flight of birds to the murky activities of Google and Facebook today, Seeing into the Future provides vital insight into the past, present, and – of course – future of prediction.” Our media overflow with predictions. This will help you sort the useful ones from the chaff, and so better see our futures.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information about this vital issue see my posts about fear, about the Constitution, and especially these posts …

  1. A 4th of July reminder that America is ours to keep – or to lose!
  2. The danger facing America, the names of the guilty, and our best hope for reform.
  3. Our institutions are hollow because we don’t love them.
  4. Rome’s last citizen warns America: don’t repeat our mistakes.
  5. After Independence Day, look to America after the Republic.
  6. We have become cowards. We can become brave again.
  7. We gave our rulers the greatest gift that we can give.
  8. The Founders’ error dooms our Republic, but not the next.

See the past to foresee our future

The Founders looked to the Roman Republic for ideas and inspiration. In this time of peril, we too can do so. See two books about the people who were the poles of the forces that could have saved the Republic, but instead destroyed it.

Caesar – a biography by Christian Meier.,

Rome’s Last Citizen by Rob Goodman and Jimmy Soni – The life and legacy of Cato, the mortal enemy of Caesar.

"Caesar" by Christian Meier
Available at Amazon.
Rome's Last Citizen
Available at Amazon.



15 thoughts on “Asking what caused our decline and how to fix it”

  1. John F Pittman

    Lilies that fester smell worse than weeds. – Shakespeare

    IMO, it is not getting lost among the weeds that is the Republic’s problem, or our problem in seeing; rather it is the decay of the noble and the multitude of manifestations. For ease of writing, I will use Matriarchal and Patriarchal.

    The decay starts when the Patriarchal do not reward the most competent, and the Matriarchal do not adhere to the strictest high moral. The problem manifests itself in myriad ways. The solution by the founding fathers was that we all need to be held to standards above reproach. No just judges, but criminals. Not just the politicians, but the voters. Each and every institution, each and every person. This was the power that was the backbone of the American society, and enabled it to accomplish so much. It was the combination of high standards, expectations are in this category, and a system designed to reward competence. It allowed for imperfections, since nothing this side of eternity is perfect or can be perfected. The last part was opportunity. Life is spread between opportunity and capability, but humans need the moral in order to function as a society. Whether enlightened or despotic, these moral systems determine how a society approaches the fundamental question of distributing the opportunity and often the capability. The founding fathers enshrined that opportunity would be available to those with capability.

    At present, we as a people have turned the machinery on itself. Whether one considers the social intervention for equality of pay, rather than equality of opportunity; or corporate welfare that gives capability based on influence and not competence, the demands for corrupting the machinery are throughout our society. We as a society are being given what we are demanding.

    If we truly want to correct this, the tent we meet under will need to be grown bigger and bigger. The words we will need to tell ourselves are already available in the AA’s 10 slogans. It starts with us admitting our error. It ends with re-establishing accountability. How this is done for a society is our challenge. In the past there have been movements, mostly religious or moral, that have provided the core of beliefs necessary to actually change. One movement that had a more secular foundation was the United States. Can it be kick started again?

    There have been many errors and missteps. That is life. Good systems handle that. Seen from the view of evolution, errors and missteps are simply part of the process. This is a case of survival. Our hope is that we are all guilty of being the progeny of survivors. The question is as much can we muster our heritage, as it is how do we save the USA. The institutions may be corrupted. They may be failing. They are still there to be used.

    One thing is for sure, the path will not be easy, will not be short, and many errors will be made along the way.


    1. Sven,

      I suggest caution when making such predictions. Mob psychology is impossible to predict.

      I suggest reading this: a 24-year foreign service officer looks at life in Woke America, sharing insights we need to know.

      “So what makes this moment into a turning point?

      Not much. Less than taking a stand, it feels more like radical chic from people who have been cooped up for months, cut off from bars and the gym. They don’t seem to know we’ve had this week before, after the deaths of Rodney King, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, and Michael Brown. The protests feel like the last round of BLM, Occupy, Pink Hats, March for Our Lives, even Live Aid in 1986 when Queen sang for everyone’s racist parents to end hunger forever. Remember in 1970 when Leonard Bernstein threw a cocktail party for the Black Panthers Defense Fund and Tom Wolfe wrote about it? That changed everything; I mean, people used to say “Negro” back then. But I’m pretty sure a year from now there will still be funded police departments.

      It took some rough nights to work out the rules and root out the looters, but even as the protests have faded, the whole thing has become a set piece: the demonstrators arrive with water bottles and healthy snacks. The route is established with the police a long way from “by any means necessary” boulevard. As long as everyone enjoys their revolutionary cosplay inside the white lines, the cops don’t have to spank anyone with pepper spray. The AP describes the once violent protests outside the White House now as having a “street fair vibe.” See, it got complicated explaining how looting beer from a convenience run by Yemeni refugees was connected to racial justice.”

      1. Nice article. Yes, the reminiscence of the late sixties early seventies is spot on.

        The thing with the Vietnam protests was, they had a cause, right or wrong, and they had a very simple and specific demand. The indulgence of the Panthers and of the Black Muslims by the elite is very reminiscent of aspects of what we are seeing now.

        Horowitz documents it all, Radicals, and also Destructive Generation. Essential reading for anyone who was either not there or has no older relatives and friends who were.

        Its impossible to tell what the specific demands of the current Antifa and BLM protests are because there are none. Protests are like this, and that is why they are basically useless to produce change. They can produce awareness. But for change, you need to get elected and start changing first local and then national governments.

        And at that point you find out that making and implementing policy is a whole different thing from marching down the street with placards. Its risks, rewards, tradeoffs and the fog of politics.

        I too don’t know whether there will be a long hot summer, but I doubt it. These are mostly lots of people with a short attention span. Some talented and dedicated organizers, no doubt. But the masses we have seen lately? Doubt it. And the next time, in addition, the looting and burning will be stopped in its tracks pretty smartly, I suspect.

        Disclaimer: I am a lousy forecaster.

  2. Thank you Larry.
    A couple of recent essays on the defining issues of our weary culture might be of interest. Great to see Jordan Peterson back and entering the fray with undiminished passion and perspicacity.

    Missives of Appalling Idiocy and Envy Embarrassing to Behold.

    Excerpt: “make no mistake about it, scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians: your famous immunity to political concerns will not protect you against what is coming fast over the next five or so years: wake up, pay attention, or perish, along with your legacy. Whatever you might offer the broader culture in terms of general value will be swept aside with little caution by those who regard the very axioms of your field as intolerable truly because of the difficulty in comprehending them and considered publicly as unacceptably exclusionary, unitary and unconcerned with sociological “realities.”

    And, on the late great Roger Scruton:

    “Sadly, we may truly be witnessing the end of Western Civilization. But if that is the case, the key to its survival lies not only within our capacity to make the right decision. It lies not merely within our rights and liberties—and certainly not in our almost indistinguishable political candidates. Rather, it rests in our willingness to communicate with one another, to think, learn, and believe. That is what it is to step away from the shuttered windows concealing the violence in the street with a renowned sense of gratitude for our heritage and a responsibility towards our culture. This was, after all, what a young, bright, British student did in the French summer of ’68, and he continued to do this until the very day he took his final breath.”

    1. David,

      “Sadly, we may truly be witnessing the end of Western Civilization. “

      I don’t know Roger Scruton or his work, or to what he was referring with those words. But that seems pretty hysterical. Current events in the US are a dot compared to those of living memory (1965-75), let alone to previous and larger challenges.

      To rich secure people, every hangnail is the End Times.

      That’s why I attempted to put the IMO probable fall of the Second Republic in a larger context. America will continue in some form, stronger or weaker.

      Even if Roger is correct, Western Civ might continue, perhaps growing brighter in other lands – if we, western Euro and the US, have passed the torch to now stronger hands.

      Too many variables for useful giant predictions.

      1. Sorry for the confusion Larry, those weren’t the words of Sir Roger Scruton, they’re from the linked essay. Hysterical would be just about the last thing you could say about the man.
        I recommend, at least, an acquaintance with his extraordinary body of work, he has been described, fairly in my view, as the greatest conservative philosopher of our age – albeit not a crowded field I’m afraid.
        Here’s a few of his words:

        “By living in a spirit of forgiveness we not only uphold the core value of citizenship but also find the path to social membership that we need. Happiness does not come from the pursuit of pleasure, nor is it guaranteed by freedom, it comes from sacrifice. That is the message of the christian religion and it is the message that is conveyed by all the memorable works of our culture. It is the message that has been lost in the noise of repudiation, but which it seems to me can be heard once again if we devote our energies to retrieving it. And in the christian tradition the primary act of sacrifice is forgiveness. The one who forgives sacrifices vengeance and renounces thereby a part of himself for the sake of another.”
        ― Roger Scruton

        “Intellectuals are naturally attracted by the idea of a planned society, in the belief that they will be in charge of it.”
        ― Roger Scruton, Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left

        “Conservatism starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created. This is especially true of the good things that come to us as collective assets: peace, freedom, law, civility, public spirit, the security of property and family life, in all of which we depend on the cooperation of others while having no means singlehandedly to obtain it. In respect of such things, the work of destruction is quick, easy and exhilarating; the work of creation slow, laborious and dull. That is one of the lessons of the twentieth century. It is also one reason why conservatives suffer such a disadvantage when it comes to public opinion. Their position is true but boring, that of their opponents exciting but false.”
        ― Roger Scruton, How to Be a Conservative

      2. Scruton is very worth reading. British philosopher, recently died, who applied logic to a wide variety of subjects. Travelled to Eastern Europe during the Soviet era and didn’t flinch from what he saw. A man of formidable abilities. Not without a darker side, but haven’t we all? If you can find time, get him and read.

  3. I grinned a bit when I read your header about how “blowing a dog whistle” is something Americans “can’t hear.”

    It’s liberals and leftists who frequently employ and weaponize the term “dog-whistle” today.

    It’s their way of finding and ascribing racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, etc. in language that’s not yet officially racist, sexist, etc. So worrying about “law and order” and “urban crime” is equivalent to burning crosses and lynching people. That way, whoever utters the language they don’t like can be condemned and more language and arguments are added to the taboo/verboten list.

    Whenever leftists indict people for “dog-whistle” statements, it makes me think of frantic person pounding their foreheads and clawing their ears, demanding to know why I can’t hear the same ringing that’s driving them mad.

    1. They’re half right unfortunately.

      I don’t know if it’s the ubiquity of smartphones, Americans collectively losing their minds from economic pressure, or what, but lately I have seen way too many Americans of all sorts of political persuasions saying and doing horribly racist things to one another. It’s sad. Jim Crow is alive on the left, complete with white people enforcing segregation! And here we have Klu Klux Karen, telling people she will teach her children and grandchildren to hate.

  4. Q: “Asking what caused our decline / How did we get into this hole?”

    A: The Nineteenth Amendment (Amendment XIX) to the United States Constitution in 1919/1920 … been on a cultural downhill slide ever since. While comparisons to the Roman Empire are interesting, I believe the current state of the USA has more similarities to 1930s Wiemar Germany. It just took American’s culture longer to degenerate than it did Germany … probably due to the strength of the Constitution which has been “hen-pecked” for the last 100 years and is now looking vulnerable

  5. The True Nolan

    We tend to think of markets as simply the places and times in which we transact financial or economic exchanges. I truth, every purposeful human action takes place under similar constraints and mechanisms. One very fundamental principle is the idea of “marginal utility”. The value assigned to something is at least in part a function of how much of that thing you already have access to. If you have enough food for a thousand meals, one more plateful is worth very little. If you are starving, that same plateful is VERY valuable. Consider how that same principle applies to our social organization. It turns out that self control is hard. Ethics is hard. Maintaining a civilization or a representative government is hard. In fact, THINKING is hard, even painful for the great majority of people. When we (as a nation) have suffered greatly, or worked continuously just to survive, or find that we need to fight daily for our lives — in times like that, we are more than willing to pay the high personal price, the effort demanded for constructing a society based on liberty, rationality, and morality. But when we already have a pretty good supply of food, housing, entertainment, prosperity, the effort to make our nation better (or even to maintain it at its present level) is more than most people are willing to pay. All that work… We would have to THINK. We would have to control our own impulses. We would have to keep our word. Worst of all we would have to face the TRUTH — which is just to say that we would have to give up all our pleasant lies and fantasies about how the world actually is. We would have to look in the mirror and give an honest accounting of who and what we personally have become.

    Very few people are willing to pay such a high price today for something which they might not get until decades into the future.

  6. This article explains many things. That includes the reasons why professionals and experienced people have been very concerned about these trends and why ‘what is going on’ is such a dangerous road for us to be on. This is information that Pro’s knew was going on, but laid out for the layperson.
    It also shows why the misrepresentation by the media and the downplaying (if not outright dismissal) of this ‘problem’ by those who publicly support the ‘idea’ is an even bigger problem.

    Something that I really appreciate about this article is she mentions the concerted effort to ‘control’ the information flow. There is a LOT of intimidation and shutting down filming by anyone ‘not approved.’
    If you know what that means, it’s not just a red flag. It’s sirens and flashing lights.

  7. I was recently surprised to see a similar article in the NY Times about a photographer named Jeremy Lee Quinn who infiltrated the black bloc anarchists in half a dozen cities across the country for the past 4 months:
    “Mr. Quinn discovered a thorny truth about the mayhem that unfolded in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man in Minneapolis. It wasn’t mayhem at all.
    While talking heads on television routinely described it as a spontaneous eruption of anger at racial injustice, it was strategically planned, facilitated and advertised on social media by anarchists who believed that their actions advanced the cause of racial justice. In some cities, they were a fringe element, quickly expelled by peaceful organizers. But in Washington, Portland and Seattle they have attracted a ‘cultlike energy,’ Mr. Quinn told me.
    Don’t take just Mr. Quinn’s word for it. Take the word of the anarchists themselves, who lay out the strategy in Crimethinc, an anarchist publication: Black-clad figures break windows, set fires, vandalize police cars, then melt back into the crowd of peaceful protesters. When the police respond by brutalizing innocent demonstrators with tear gas, rubber bullets and rough arrests, the public’s disdain for law enforcement grows. It’s Asymmetric Warfare 101.”

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