“Is it the Fourth yet?”
-The last words of Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1826; fifty years to the day from the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Today is the 235th birthday of our country, and because I’m in a dark mood I wonder how many more we will be celebrating. I wonder if someday Americans will commemorate the Fourth in mourning for a lost, great nation. I wonder if those of our descendants who still call themselves “Americans” will be a rootless tribe keeping alive the memory of America as the Jews kept the memory of Jerusalem on high holy days.
“Many clever men like you have trusted to civilization. Many clever Babylonians, many clever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me, in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilization, what there is particularly immortal about yours?”
- G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
Intellectually, everbody with even a smidgen of history knows the truth of Chesterton’s observation. But we seldom expect to see the failure of our civilization in our own time.
I wonder, are we victims of our own success?
Has the United States has been free, powerful, and prosperous so long that we simply can not imagine being poor, powerless, and unfree?
We have a government that is running up a debt of staggering proportions, owed to a nation that gleefully anticipates our fall.
A government which “has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
We have a media establishment which, abandoning their calling as the watchdog of a free people, has taken their thirty pieces of silver to become the “Fourth Estate.” And who now remembers this term, originally French, was a sardonic reference for an unofficial fourth branch of government after the nobles, commons, and clergy?
Indulge me in this for a moment. Our “nobles” are the political class, now virtually a lifetime profession, and increasingly a hereditary one. Consider not-quite-cold Senator Robert Byrd, who died in office at age 92. Consider the names Romney, Gore, Dodd, Kennedy.
And like noble classes throughout history, they care more for their power and privilege than the welfare of their country.
Our “commons” is organized labor, the majority of which are now unionized government employees, many of the rest workers illegally in this country. In the private sector, unions now largely irrelevant and uninteresting to skilled workers, recruit mostly among workers stuck in unskilled and low-status jobs. (Think SEIU.) The kind most easily persuaded to nurse a burning resentment against a free market society.
Our “clergy” are the academic class, once the conservers and transmitters of the heritage of our civilization, now dedicated to indoctrinating a generation with the notion that heritage doesn’t matter – or worse, is pernicious and doesn’t deserve to be preserved.
In the last letter from Thomas Jefferson’s pen, he spoke of American’s beginning a “bold and doubtful experiment.”
That experiment has now run for more than two-and-a-quarter centuries. Consider the Fourth a time to evaluate the results to date.
Perhaps we will have many more such opportunities. And perhaps in the grand scope of history this many is as much as we had any right to expect.
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