OPINION – One of my favorite indulgences is an informal ritual that has developed between my co-workers and me.
Once or twice a week, we sit down for lunch together and watch an episode of the iconic sci-fi TV show “Firefly.”
The show is set roughly 500 years in the future, in a time when humans have taken to colonizing other planets and moons because our own planet has been outgrown and used up. The native planet of mankind is now simply referred to as “Earth-That-Was.”
Taking in the scenes of what is currently unfolding around us, I can’t help but wonder if we’ve reached the point where the America we think we live in has become “America-That-Was.”
We still wax romantic over the idea that America is essentially what we’ve always believed it to be, but reality is getting harder to deny. The republic given to us by our Founding Fathers was founded upon the goal of liberty.
Unfortunately, that republic is no longer ours.
In a republic, power is carefully limited. It is also separated and divided among the republic’s governing bodies so that the temptation to abuse power is limited. Those who govern are limited by law, and their primary purpose is to secure and protect the natural rights of the people who have delegated temporary authority to them.
This means they absolutely may not rule by whim – the hallmark of tyrants.
It’s no exaggeration to say that those in power today recognize no effective limits on what they may rightfully do. The fact that neither presidential candidate for the two major parties has voiced a syllable of concern on this matter is further evidence that nothing will change with this election.
Angelo M. Codevilla brilliantly quantifies our nation’s final stages of transition from republic to empire in his essay “After the Republic.” He writes:
In today’s America, a network of executive, judicial, bureaucratic, and social kinship channels bypasses the sovereignty of citizens. Our imperial regime, already in force, works on a simple principle: the president and the cronies who populate these channels may do whatever they like so long as the bureaucracy obeys and one third plus one of the Senate protects him from impeachment.
This departure from sound principle reflects the kind of ambition and psychopathy that has always been part of the darker side of human nature. It’s why voting for the greater or lesser versions of Caligula will not steer America in a more positive direction.
What we see in our ruling class is a deeply unflattering reflection of what we the people are willing to become.
All ruling classes are what Shakespeare called the ‘makers of manners.’ Plato, in The Republic, and Aristotle, in his Politics, teach that polities reflect the persons who rise to prominence within them, whose habits the people imitate, and who set the tone of life in them. Thus a polity can change as thoroughly as a chorus changes from comedy to tragedy depending on the lyrics and music. Germany under Kaiser Wilhelm was arguably the world’s most polite society. Under Hitler, it became the most murderous.
One thing America’s founding generation understood with great clarity was the inseparable connection between virtue and liberty. Their personal writings are replete with this understanding.
As we complete the transformation from America-That-Was into whatever it is we’re becoming, notice how any emphasis on virtue has largely disappeared from public discourse.
Instead, those who seek a place at the table among the ruling class via elections tend to measure national well-being in other ways. They prefer to couch their messages in economic criterion, the ability to project force and the promise of distributed goodies purchased with the sweat of the productive.
There is no acknowledgment of the necessity for self-control, both individual and collectively, that lies at the heart of authentic freedom.
Those who see the unpleasant writing on the wall may still have reasons to be optimistic.
The one area where each of us still has undeniable influence is within our homes and our families. I just spent a week traveling abroad with my grown-up kids and disconnected from mainstream and social media.
Unplugging from the artificial blizzard of official angst and misinformation freed my mind from needless, fear-based distractions.
Not only did the world begin to appear much more normal, I also had priceless opportunities to connect with family while focusing on what really matters. It was a powerful reminder that the world changes most easily right where we’re standing.
A prime concern that should be on the mind of anyone with a functioning conscience is how to utilize our personal influence without further legitimizing the abusive, self-serving behavior of the ruling class.
Is the ideal of America-That-Was dependent upon our political process alone? How do we carry it forward?
The answer to these questions will be found closer to home, friends and community than most of us realize.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator, radio host and opinion columnist in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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