Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How can you say that nothing's changed when everything's different?

Lawrence Auster last week posted a short entry on his blog about the Fourth of July, and I've been trying ever since then to properly verbalize why I feel, like him, that somehow nothing will ever be the same again. I'm not an American, but I've always felt like an honorary American, as if I could be unofficially adopted into that country through enthusiasm for her ideals and history. A little like the Biblical idea of being "grafted onto" the original tree - not one of the Chosen People, but allowed in because what's inside is more important than the merely physical.

Since the betrayal of the USSC and particularly the despicable John Roberts, I haven't been able to shake the feeling that everything's different now. I vaguely remember some long-ago debate here in Canada over changing and overturning traditions. The liberal, as usual, pooh-poohed his conservative opponent as some sort of unbalanced hysteric. This change - in divorce law, or abortion law, or mandatory French labelling, or whatever - wasn't anything to be alarmed about! Why, we've been doing such-and-such for years anyway - nothing's changed. The conservative finally replied, "How can you say that nothing's changed when everything's different?"

And that's the truth of it: everything IS different, even though lots of people, including lots of conservatives, are insisting that this is just a little tactical manoeuvre to one side or another. I guess you could call them "Normalists". No matter what happens, everything is still normal. On the Right, this has given rise to the cry to donate money to Mitt Romney. If June 28 is a normal act, then it can be countered by normal methods, and the typical normal method is to jog down the old, familiar road of elections. The usual pattern of behaviour is one side gets a point, then the other side gets a point, and it all works out.

Except in this case, I don't think this is a normal situation. I think 6/28 marked an existential change in the nature of the United States. It's like a person walking through a radioactive field, where most of the radiation passes harmlessly through his body, until finally one cell is struck and split, producing the undetectable change that will eventually completely alter the nature of the body and cause its death. Maybe "tipping point" is a better descriptor, that moment when things going over the edge can't be pulled back. But I like the other because it better reflects my feeling that everything looks the same, only it's entirely different.

My grief over this can't be understood if you don't know how fervently I've loved the United States. I remember reading an essay on Solzhenitsyn back in the '70s where he described how he and other Soviet dissidents worshipped the West. It was like that: sure, my own country could continue to sink under socialist lies and delusion, but...there's always America! Even if I couldn't actually move there, it was as if I could be a refugee in my own mind, and escape there in spirit. As long as America was there, I knew could never be homeless.

America has been compared to ancient Rome, and whether the originators of those comparisons meant it that way or not, I've always regarded that as the highest of compliments. I've never agreed with some Christians who insist that Rome was the worst tyranny, the most barbaric savage paganism that could be imagined. I think they do it to darken the backdrop to put a brighter illumination on the coming of Christ into the world. But I've never believed that. I think Rome was as great a force for good in the ancient world as America has been in the modern - a bringer of law, order and sanity to a world of backward savagery. Considering the other cultures on offer at the time, Rome was a miracle of human accomplishment.

But what happened to it is what is happening to America now. G.K. Chesterton could have been writing about America today when he described Rome at the time of Christ:
It is essential to recognise that the Roman Empire was recognised as the highest achievement of the human race; and also as the broadest. A dreadful secret seemed to be written as in obscure hieroglyphics across those mighty works of marble and stone, those colossal amphitheatres and aqueducts. Man could do no more.

For it was not the message blazed on the Babylonian wall, that one king was found wanting or his one kingdom given to a stranger. It was no such good news as the news of invasion and conquest. There was nothing left that could conquer Rome; but there was also nothing left that could improve it. It was the strongest thing that was growing weak. It was the best thing that was going to the bad. It is necessary to insist again and again that many civilisations had met in one civilisation of the Mediterranean sea; that it was already universal with a stale and sterile universality. The peoples had pooled their resources and still there was not enough. The empires had gone into partnership and they were still bankrupt. No philosopher who was really philosophical could think anything except that, in that central sea, the wave of the world had risen to its highest, seeming to touch the stars. But the wave was already stooping; for it was only the wave of the world.

(The Everlasting Man)

This is why I take no comfort from people on conservative blogs like the Belmont Club asserting that there's nothing to fear, America has the biggest army, the fanciest weaspons, the best soldiers, etc. Because as Chesterton says, "there's nothing left that can conquer" America, and no outside enemy to fear. So there's just the prospect of a never-ending zombie existence, always sliding down, without even the chance of an outside enemy to shock people into turning back to God, the source of their former strength. America as a perpetual motion machine, forever grinding along meaninglessly.
It was something in the sense of impotence and despair with which men shook their fists vainly at the stars, as they saw all the best work of humanity sinking slowly and helplessly into a swamp. They could easily believe that even creation itself was not a creation but a perpetual fall, when they saw that the weightiest and worthiest of all human creations was falling by its own weight.
"Man can do no more", and man is determined to look no further than the length of his own arm. There will be no appeal to God, in fact, He is being busily pried up and discarded wherever He's found. Yes, yes, it was "the Constitution" that was the big fence that had to be holed and knocked down, but the Constitution only was strong because it came out of a Christian philosophy. Once the philosophy was hollowed out, we can see that the Constitution was no defence at all. So now instead of God's beloved sons and daughters living out the lives He gave them in the best way possible, America is a land of government-owned livestock, who will be disposed of as the master pleases, for reasons either good and logical (the best case) or demented and malicious (the more likely case).
The life of the great civilisation went on with dreary industry and even with dreary festivity. It was the end of the world, and the worst of it was that it need never end.
That's the term that came to mind the most over this past Fourth of July: dreary. "Another dreary American holiday". I'll say it again when Thanksgiving comes in November. Like a Disneyland castle, a shallow spectacle with nothing but cardboard and electric wires holding it up. The end of the world.


Blogger Tregonsee said...

We are seeing how fragile true liberty is, and how a confluence of events can with startling suddenness place it in jeopardy. It is hard for most Americans, and I suspect Canadians, to recognize; it is something from a Third World country. Between your Thanksgiving Day, and ours, we are going to get one chance to fix this.

5:47 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Yes, the speed of the collapse has been stunning, and few, even among the most grumpy conservatives, expected that it could be happening this quickly. It seems impossible that there could not have been immense reserves of vitality in America that would have thrown off this sickness. But it must be the equivalent of an immune deficiency, that was sapping the strength of the patient for years, so that when some opportunistic little nothing of a virus like Obama came along, the whole organism was ravaged.

I still think conservatives don't really understand the peril. As a veteran watcher of the Anglican collapse, I can remember when people used to comfortable cluck, "There, there! Don't forget, it took over a hundred years from the Council of Nicea before Arianism was vanquished!" As if there is no timetable but one, and we have all the time in the world to work out our problems. It turned out what worked in the 4th century isn't as effective in the 21st, and the Anglicans didn't have 100 years to fight heresy. They barely had 10. Similarly, conservatives still seem to be thinking in 4-8 year chunks, and rather complacently calculating that the pattern will never change.

I by no means think that Romney will even win in November, though decency demands that I say so. And even if he does win, I don't see a comfortable 4-8 years of "turning things around". I really don't think there's any way back now.

6:46 pm  
Blogger Tregonsee said...

I am a bit more optimistic, but don't really disagree with your analysis, other than to note that Conservative is not identical to Republican. Conservatives KNOW the danger.

I think the most urgent matter is a change of leadership. The most important is to take a hard look at how this came about, starting with what is being taught in schools. I am 60-something, and it is truly amazing to hear what is taught, and not taught, in American schools today.

BTW, as a former Episcopalian I have been down that road as well. If you have been following the TEC General Convention, you know that no matter how bad things seem, they can still manage to get worse.

7:06 pm  
Blogger Dr. Mabuse said...

Of course, you're right, and I usually DO make the distinction between Republican and conservative - not the same thing, by any means. Unfortunately, I think time is running out for both camps: Republicans who think that just one more election to get "their guy" in will fix everything - it won't, but they don't look any further than "my team wins!" and are not really thinking in terms of fixing a culture at all. And conservatives, who've been strung along for so long in the hopes of influencing the Republican party, and have now run out of time to strike out on their own.

As for the GC, I can hardly stand to read the reports from Indianapolis, not even for the chance of getting a laugh. The stink of brimstone is just nauseating.

7:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dr. Mabuse - Thank you for your wise words. Most of all thank you for caring. You are indeed correct that we are in mortal danger at this time. It amazes me daily that so many who sat back and did nothing when the left worked to remove God from every square inch of this country are now shocked that he appears to have abandoned us to the results of our apathy. Surely, I thought they would awaken when the schools went to hell in a handbasket. But no, not yet.

I, however, have learned that He works best when there is no hope. What great glory will be brought to His name if this country is able to recognize their errors and return to a path that recognizes God as our creator.

Will you join with us in prayer that this nation opens ears, eyes and heart and fall on their face in prayer?

It is the greatest gift you can give us and surely, the most effective.


2:30 pm  

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