In recent decades, the study of history has lost its former place of honor in U.S. education. That is unfortunate, for knowledge of history is essential to recognizing and avoiding the threats to our civilization.
There have been many civilizations in human history and their longevity varies widely. Some last for many centuries, others for far fewer. For example, the Chinese lasted five-and-a-half centuries; the Roman, twelve centuries; the Greek, twenty-two; the Egyptian, thirty-one; the Mayan, thirty-five; the Mesopotamian, an impressive fifty-nine centuries. Our U.S. civilization, a relative newcomer that descended from “western” civilization, is a little under two-and-a-half centuries old. All the others I mentioned were destroyed by external forces, internal forces, or both. British historian Arnold Toynbee, who researched the rise and fall of 28 civilizations, concluded that internal forces were the most destructive.
Harmful internal forces identified by various historians include political corruption, economic collapse, mass migration, epidemic illness, famine, natural catastrophe, and war, among others. According to Greek historian Polybius, the fall of ancient Greece was caused by population decline resulting from people’s disinterest in marriage and the responsibilities of parenthood. German historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler cited disinterest in abstract thinking as another significant factor.
One thing is clear about the decline of civilizations: it does not occur spontaneously or haphazardly, but over time and through a distinct process. Scottish historian/philosopher Alexander Tytler (1747-1813) identified the specific stages in that process, which may be paraphrased as follows:
1) from bondage to spiritual faith, 2) from spiritual faith to the courage to seek liberty, 3) from seeking liberty to pursuing abundance, 4) from achieving abundance to self-absorption, 5) from self-absorption to complacency about concerns larger than self, 6) from complacency, 7) from apathy to dependence on government, 8) from dependence to bondage.
Tytler also questioned the individual freedom that is said to exist in republics and democracies. He wrote: “The people flatter themselves that they have the sovereign power. These are, in fact, words without meaning. It is true they [elect] governors; but how are these elections brought about? In every instance of election by the mass of a people—[it is] through the influence of those governors themselves, and by means the most opposite to a free and disinterested choice, by the basest corruption and bribery. But those governors once selected, where is the boasted freedom of the people? They must submit to their rule and control, with the same abandonment of their natural liberty, the freedom of their will, and the command of their actions, as if they were under the rule of a monarch.”
Some historians no doubt regarded Tytler’s claim as an overstatement of reality. Others likely considered it inapplicable to America’s democratic republic. However, events of the last decade(s) suggest that it is not an overstatement and that it is very much applicable to modern America. In fact, certain developments have invited and encouraged among political leaders and other influential people the “basest corruption and bribery” Tytler spoke of.
One such development has been politicians and government officials ignoring their obligations to their constituents and supporting changes in laws that gain them present and future benefits from corporations. Another development has been an increase in journalists and social media figures who violate their ethical codes and hide the corruption of their favored groups from the public. This development has made it difficult, if not impossible, for citizens to acquire accurate information on issues, evaluate it carefully, and make appropriate decisions. This has been the case in their voting choices. Lacking essential information about the people vying for leadership, citizens have been manipulated to vote for individuals who lack the competence and/or integrity required to serve.
The result of these developments has not only been incredibly foolish decisions by the leaders of the country, but also positively evil decisions. I use the word “evil” advisedly; no milder term fits the reality. A few examples will clarify my point.
It is foolish to cancel a policy that protected the U.S. policy and install one that removed that protection, and even more foolish to guarantee protection of a border 5600 miles away in Ukraine. It is foolish to believe that Climate Change will be overcome by curtailing U.S. energy production and instead purchasing energy from countries that are less concerned about “clean” energy production. It is evil to release from prison individuals who have committed violent crimes while imprisoning those who merely supported a candidate that political leaders dislike. It is evil to allow teachers to instruct students on sexual behavior without informing parents, and even more evil for teachers to encourage students to consider surgery that will irreversibly change their gender. (Worth mentioning is that if even a modest number of our young people change gender and become sterile, the population decline that helped destroy ancient Greeks will impact us similarly.)
A moment’s reflection on the discussion in this essay will suggest these conclusions: First, that the U.S. population has (in general) moved beyond stages 1 through 4 of Alexander Tityler’s process; and that some individuals are in the stage of complacency, others are in the stage of apathy, and a great and growing number have moved from apathy to dependence on government. Secondly, more important and in fact frightening, that many leaders of the U.S. government, with the support of mainstream and social media and the apparent acquiescence of many educators and some religious leaders, are vigorously pushing us to Titler’s final stage—that is, from dependence to bondage!
Copyright © 2023 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved