Whenever I think things are going badly, and I’m bummed about
the prospects on the political scene, I think the barbarians are
winning, and it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket, I take solace in history.
Rome was the most powerful empire the world had ever seen, had built amazing feats
of engineering, and been sustained by astonishing feats of logistics, and had
many stories of unimaginable bravery and personal strength. It has existed
nearly forever, it seemed. Rome Was Eternal.
Until it was sacked. And repeatedly taken over by a
succession of military despots, kings, generals, armies, Senators, and foreigners,
and was sunken into the darkness of barbarism and illiteracy, even as each new replacement
empire claimed the mantel of “Rome’s successor.” Some people fled the invaders,
and hid in the nastiest and most inaccessible of the local swamps and fens,
amidst the islands and channels where cavalry and armies couldn’t go after them.
They fled the easy (but crime- and corruption- and invader-infested) life of the
hills and fertile soil of northern Italy. It was a hard life, with no powerful
protector, difficult farming, lots of places to wreck your boat, fetid water and disease, and no time
for anything as non-essential as high culture or art. They clung to life, remembered the best of Rome, and
did the best they could.
Nearly a thousand years later, the city-state of Venice was
one of the most powerful in the world, and its fleet (with help from Spain and
the Papal States) crushed and halted the fleet of the powerful Imperial Ottoman Turks at Lepanto. Ideas are powerful things, and humans are resilient. We may
not fight our way out of the darkness before we die, nor may our children, but
we pass on the good ideas and knowledge to them, and instill in them a sense of
history, and, one day, it WILL happen. Property rights, individual freedom, limited
government, and free markets work.
They will, eventually, take over, because they are more powerful than the
forces trying to limit them… but it may be a long, long slog, and will most assuredly
NOT be a straight line.
(History geeks, take note: this is the simplified version of
things, where the essence is correct, in the interest of telling a good story
with a powerful idea to put current events in perspective.)