A thoughtful reader of these columns suggested to me that we need to address one simple question: where are we as a nation? Are we, as some people suggest, at the beginning of a “New American Century” that will be marked by endless triumphs at home and abroad? Or is the picture perhaps not quite so bright?
Personally, when I look at our country today, whether at our morals and culture, our “lifestyles,” our economy or our politics, one word unavoidably comes to mind: decadence.
I recently ran across a prophecy that struck me for its timeliness. It reads, “They will sink into a swamp of decadence: men will sleep with men, and boys will be pimped in brothels; civil tumults will engulf them, and everything will fall into confusion and disorder.” Scholars have dated this prophecy to around 140BC, and it referred to Rome, not America. Importantly, it was talking not about the later Roman Empire, but about the Roman Republic - - just on the verge of its fall and Romans’ loss of their liberties. I think it is timely because it reminds us of one of history’s basic facts: those who abuse their liberties lose them.
Decadence is an abuse of liberty. Our country’s Founding Fathers understood this. They said over and over again that our republic can endure only so long as its citizens are virtuous. Virtue means that people use their liberty to do good, not evil. Sadly, that is not what we see when we look around America today.
Of course, there are many good people, people of faith, who still use their liberty to do good. But they are not setting our country’s direction. Our direction is being set by elites that despise everything we have always defined as good. They have in effect said, “Evil, be thou my good.”
I could give endless examples, examples all too familiar to most of us. Turn on the television and you really have to hunt to find any show that does not reflect decadence - - or any ad, for that matter. Things like music videos and video games are usually even worse. The main use of the internet is for pornography.
It is not surprising that the prophecy I quoted earlier (I don’t take it seriously as a prophecy, because the source was not Christian or Jewish, but it was a signpost) pointed to homosexuality as the number one sign of decadence. I think that has always been true. Now, we find pro-homosexual psychological conditioning in the public schools, “gay marriage” being ruled legal by courts and a supposedly Christian church with an openly homosexual bishop. Other denominations are considering or adopting rites for “same-sex marriage,” as if there could be any such thing.
What does all this mean for the next conservatism? It means that we have to start with a realistic understanding of where our country is. Yes, it sells better politically to say, “It’s morning in America.” Unfortunately, that just isn’t true. It is not a new American century that lies before us, but a long descent into what Russell Kirk called “old Night.” The immense task facing the next conservatism is turning that around.
In my next column, I will take a look at where I think we as conservatives are today in Washington, in politics. That picture, too, is perhaps not quite as rosy as some people tell us it is.