Thursday, September 11, 2008

Twilight of the American Empire

If anything can be said to characterize this period in the history of the American Empire it is the faint sweet smell of decay, the aroma of something barely nosed out behind the curtains of our public and private lives. It is the way an Empire in decline begins to smell.

As a people we have become spiritually feverish and anxious, only dimly aware (if at all) that we are sick yet, somehow, responding to that half-sensed odor by questing after distraction and emotional excitation. Thus we hide ourselves from the truth.

Americans have never been a particularly introspective people; our thought has always been directed outward, toward the world. We have been engineers, pragmatists. At least by the myths we employ to understand ourselves and others it is the French to whom we attribute the inward turning of thought: Think Descartes.

When I look about today I can’t help but think of Rome: Bread…circuses… and Caesar’s royal circlet sold to the highest bidder; political destinies sold to the corn merchants.

Some weeks a go a friend looked up from his coffee and after a pause in our conversation said, “There is no honor any more.” Then just a few nights ago someone turned to me and asked, “Don’t we care about facts anymore?”

If there is a public life without honor anything is thinkable; and in a public life in which facts are less important than emotions and attitudes, the thinkable becomes attainable.

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