November 07, 2012

Barbarians at the Gate: Embracing Our New Barbarian Overlords

I'm feeling rather pessimistic today. Call it sour grapes. So pessimistic, in fact, that you might just call it out right doom and gloom. With an outlook on life and politics and the prospects for our country that usually I just laugh at. Not apocalyptic, per se, but something approaching that.

100 years after the Roman Empire fell there was still something lingering around calling itself the "Roman Empire". 500 years after Rome fell, there was something still calling itself the "Roman Empire". Over a thousand years after Rome fell, there were still people around speaking as if their country was really Rome.

In the East, the "Roman Empire" didn't end until 1453 with the fall of Constantinople.

In the West, the "Roman Empire" didn't end until Napoleon's victory at Austerlitz in 1805 over the last "Holy Roman" Emperor.

Farther East and North, the last Caesar ruled until 1917, when Czar (Czar = Caesar in Russian) Nicholas Romanov (= son of the Romans) II abdicated.

That is to say, the fiction of Rome lasted far longer than Rome itself. The idea of Rome being much more powerful than the actuality.

I can't help but wonder if America does ever fall, will the people living through it realize it is gone? That what future "Americans" call "America" will actually just be a fiction created by them as a way for them to try to reclaim some of the greatness that was once this thing called America? And that transition to the new fiction from the old reality will be lost on many who live through it?

And what if that generation is us?

If that is the case, and the America of the future is only related to the America of the past through the fictions we ourselves create, then is there really any hope?

Sure. Think of the Visigoths who sacked Rome, but who 150 years later were living in Gaul speaking Latin. Or better yet, the Ostrogoths who sacked true Rome for the last time, settled down on the Italian peninsula, and taught their children Latin.

100 years after Justinian briefly took Italy back from the Ostrogoths for Eastern Rome, you'd be hard pressed to find any one on the peninsula with even the faintest memory of their Germanic roots.

Further, the Romans didn't just go away. They didn't all die. The new invaders and the old Romans simply ... got on with life. They traded with one another. They lived side by side. They intermarried. Until finally, there were no more Romans and no more barbarians. In their wake they left us the English, the French, the Italians, and so on and so on.

And you know what? The ideas and ideals of Rome were so powerful that they live on today. In us.

As we become more and more like Europe, and less and less like the country that was founded on the principle that we are not Europe, then if there is any hope then it is this: that even as we become more like them, they are becoming more like us.

At some point in the future it will be our ideas which are remembered and venerated. That the fiction of America will long outlast any of its competition. And it will be our children and our children's children which will carry the blood of true America in their veins, even if it is mixed with the blood of those who destroyed the very thing which they will one day idealize.

Maybe this whole analogy is way off. I hope so. Maybe the future has something else completely in store for us. Maybe the next American renaissance is just around the corner. Or maybe we'll all be speaking Chinese.

I really couldn't tell you. But for now my faith is no longer in America continuing as the greatest nation on Earth. I just don't see it happening.

So, dig in and welcome our new barbarian overlords. They are us.

By Rusty Shackleford, Ph.D. at 12:01 PM | Comments |