476 Rome, 2008 Washington D.C.
On the Dead End America Reached in Politics, and How the Way Out Has to Begin in Metaphysics
One of the many reasons why Ancient Greece was and remains the greatest among history's great nations is the fact that Greek civilization never collapsed. It never died the kind of ugly death that Rome died during the 5th century, or the United States has been dying in our days. The Greeks fell in battle: they were defeated by the Macedonians, and later the Romans. Their culture, which was respected and admired by their conquerors, lived on as part of the Macedonian and Roman empires, and took centuries to gradually fade away. The name of Greece continues to ring clean and honorable in our ears because the Greeks never chose their own destruction. They never surrendered their greatness out of their own will.
If one looks at American culture as a whole, it is evident that the United States no longer has a chance to earn such an honor. Thanks to our military strength, there has never been the remotest possibility of our being conquered by a nation like China or the United Arab Emirates--nations that, like Macedon and Rome of old, admire the material fruits of our culture and seek to imitate some of its concrete aspects, but lack the fundamental spirit that made it possible--and more importantly, American culture, taken as a whole, has been rejecting that fundamental spirit. †
The collapse of a civilization is a drawn-out process that does not happen within one day, nor even one year. Rome had been declining for centuries before Odoacer--the first Barbarian king--took it over in 476, and that particular year brought little visible change into the lives of the inhabitants of the empire, who continued to refer to themselves as Romans. Similarly, the United States has been adopting Socialist policies ever since the passage of the first "anti-trust" act in 1890; the 2008 election is just another step down a road we have been traveling on since before Ayn Rand was born. Assigning a date to the collapse of a civilization is an exercise in abstraction: one has to choose the date of an event that symbolizes the whole centuries-long process; an event that summarizes the essence of what brought about the downfall; an event that marks a point of no return.
Dr. Peikoff recenty called Obama "the first anti-American candidate." Indeed, while there have been many un-American candidates and Presidents in the past (in fact, most of the Presidents in the 20th century can be called un-American), none of them has been as avowedly anti-American as Obama. None of them kept hearing "God damn America!" as the gospel of God during their regular Sunday visits to the institution most responsible for shaping their sense of life, their ideas of morality, and their whole implicit philosophy. None of them had the likes of Bill Ayers as their closest associates. If we give them the benefit of the doubt, we might still say about all past Presidents that they were fundamentally well-meaning individuals who honestly wanted to secure a bright future for America, but were awfully handicapped as a result of the betrayal of the nation by its nihilist intellectual establishment. Obama's choice of his friends and mentors makes it clear that securing a bright future for America is definitely not his goal.
A nation cannot elect one of its enemies as its chief executive and survive for long. If we want to find a date symbolic of America's descent into statism, I cannot think of any event in the past, nor do I think there will be any event in the future, that captures it better than the election that turned the first anti-American candidate into the first anti-American president and gave him the full support of the House as well as the Senate. November 4, 2008, is the date history ought to record as the day the first American Republic fell.
Like all ideas, such historical symbolism has far more significance than most people realize. When told of an event that took place in the city of Rome in 450 A.D., most people will automatically consider it to have been an event in the Roman Empire. The more historically savvy among them might note that it was very late in the history of that empire, i.e. in its declining stage, but they will still be naturally inclined to think of it as a part of Rome's history and as a product of Rome's culture. Because 476 A.D. is the widely accepted year of the fall of Rome, very few would think of it as a medieval event. On the other hand, when told of an event in the year 500, everyone will easily recognize it as one that happened in the early medieval times, and one that had nothing to do with the original Roman culture.
Thus, like all abstractions, assigning a date to the fall of the original United States is much more than just an idle academic exercise. Until it becomes widely accepted that we have not been able to keep the constitutional Republic the Founders gave us, everything that happens in America will continue to be seen as an American event, and as a product of American culture, i.e. of capitalism. Only when people become aware that Washington has been taken over by an element foreign to the nation's founding spirit will they stop identifying Washington's actions with that of a capitalist government; only then will they naturally think of it as having nothing to do with the original American culture.
Many patriotic Americans will say that it is premature at this point to declare the end of the Republic. Shouldn't I at least wait to see what policies Obama actually implements (given that he has yet to fully disclose the exact nature and extent of the changes he has in store for us) before pronouncing him the Odoacer of America? But I think, if anything, one has to wonder whether November 4 of this year is too late a date to name: the United States has been much closer to a democracy than a republic for several decades now. This was not the first election in which a candidate tried to gain the support of 51 per cent of the voters by promising them a little money, to be taken from the remaining 49 per cent--and did not even find it necessary to try and explain how his plan was to be reconciled with the inalienable rights Jefferson had written about. However, it was the first election in which the candidate flatly said into the face of a member of the victimized 49 per cent that his intention was to spread their wealth around, and that he knew this will make them vote against him, but it was the other 51 per cent whose vote he was counting on.
But have we really passed a point of no return? Many are hoping to see a repeat of the 1994 elections in 2010 that will give Obama a Republican Congress, making him as impotent to do too much harm as Bill Clinton was. One has to realize, though, that the Republican Party is in a very different situation today than it was sixteen years ago. Back then, the more patriotic half of America's population still had confidence in them as the representatives of their principles and ideals. The elder George Bush was seen as a bad apple among them, and his four years of pseudo-capitalism as an aberration. Today, after having witnessed how the Republicans rose to full power in all branches of the Federal Government and how they used that power to deliver the nation into the hands of its enemies, it is much more difficult not to notice that all the apples are rotten. A defeated, demoralized, and discredited party cannot mount an effective opposition to a determined gang of ruthless power-lusters they have just surrendered to without a fight.
Restrictions on free speech, such as the Campaign Finance "Reform," which was personally gift-wrapped for the Democrats by Senator McCain and autographed for them by President Bush, and the "Fairness" Doctrine whose hideous ghost has risen from the grave to haunt us, will make it even more difficult for any opponent to challenge the Democrats' power.
A genuinely pro-American idealist in the Republican Party who is a good communicator, and also happens to have a lot of his own funds, might yet bring about a second Reagan Revolution. But such people are very rare--and you have to realize that this very period, the last couple of lame-duck months of the Bush administration, is nothing other than the final petering out of the Reagan presidency's afterglow in the Republican Party's fortunes. A second such Republican resurgence would bring a very welcome break from the onmarch of nihilism, but the nature of the Republican Party precludes it from being anything more than a temporary respite, after which the nihilist destroyers are bound to continue marching on. The rare revolutionary is inevitably going to be succeeded by compromisers, "compassionates," "mavericks," and collaborators like the ones who have succeeded Reagan and handed power back to the Democrats. He may delay them by a couple of decades, but he will not bring about a restoration of the Republic.
It is time to make it official: Washington, D.C. has fallen to the Barbarians.
America, however, consists of more than the District of Columbia. American culture consists of more than the nation's intellectual establishment. As the heroic spirit of Greece lived on within the empires that conquered it, the true American sense of life has continued to persist under the rule of the nihilist intelligentsia. The antagonism between these two elements is so sharp and irreconcilable that it is a mistake to "look at American culture as a whole." It would be an injustice to many freedom-loving, independent-souled individuals to accuse them of having chosen their own destruction, or willfully surrendered their own greatness. What has in truth happened to them is that they have become a minority in a what is now a democracy. The ancient Greeks were conquered on the battlefield; the modern Americans, the ones who truly deserve the name, have been outgunned in the cold civil war of a democracy's voting booths.
They will continue to be outgunned until they are armed with and have learned the use of the only weapon that can allow them to defeat the Barbarians and successfully establish a new Republic of freedom and justice: a rational philosophy. That weapon has been manufactured and is ready to be delivered--but it has yet to be ordered in the first place. Most Americans have not yet realized that their current guns are and will forever remain useless against the Barbarians and will rarely allow them to achieve anything but to shoot themselves in the foot. And most of them are genuinely at a loss to understand how a philosophy--the abstractest of all the abstract ideas, the most "academic" of all "academic exercises"--is going to help defend them from the very concrete machine guns of Obama's agents. In this respect, too many Americans are still with Stalin: "How many divisions does the Pope have?"
In the Iliad, it was not until the death of Patroclos that Achilles decided to rejoin the fight against the Trojans, armed with a brilliant new shield made for him by Hephaistos and delivered by Thetis. The role of Antilochos--who brought Achilles the news of his friend's death--now falls upon us: we have to awaken people to the fact that the Republic that was born in 1788 is no longer alive; that conservative political activism has failed to conserve it, and will be equally unable to bring it back to life.
The second part of our task has more to do with metaphysics than with politics: We have to get Americans to recognize that there is something that can give them back their country. We have to shed light on the fact that philosophy, far from being an idle ivory-tower pastime, has a momentuous influence on a nation's life (as it has on life in general). We have to explain them why it is crucial for their survival to know the truth not only as far as concretes are concerned, but also to form the right abstractions. We have to make them see why they cannot afford to rely on faith in any area of life. In a nutshell: we have to clear up the confusion surrounding the relationship of consciousness and existence--we have to explain why ideas matter.