Like many, I hoped McCain would win, but intellectually knew he would lose. We were asking America to do one recently uncharacteristic thing in this election: choose age, experience, self-sacrifice, and competence over perpetual adolescence, indulgence, inexperience, and energy.
We were asking Baby Boomers – let me emphasize BABY here – and their younger minions to hand power backward to an older generation, and specifically to a member of that generation who represented individualism and self-sacrifice, two things not found – as a general statement – among those under 60.
And so America has chosen to become France West: choosing spoon-feeding and the envy of the nursery school over feeding yourself and being satisfied with what you earn on your own, rather than worrying about what somebody else happens to have.
No doubt you are wondering about the title here: The Age Of Ausonius.
Ausonius lived throughout most of the 300’s A.D. and can be considered a kind of Renaissance man 1200 years before the Renaissance: he founded schools, was a renowned intellectual, wrote some famous poetry, was a general and succesfully defeated a Germanic invasion, became involved in Imperial politics, and was also the private tutor for the heir to the Roman Empire, Gratian.
The Age of Ausonius was an age of decay, when the Roman Empire failed to find solutions to its problems outside of the purest expediency (bribery of enemies, raising taxes to confiscatory levels, allowing Germanic tribes into the empire as “immigrants” when they were actually invaders).
Ausonius lived to see his student Gratian assassinated, and lived to see the empire eat itself, with the eastern co-emperor willing to bribe Germanic barbarians and treat them as erstwhile “allies” to stop hassling the east and attack the west.
Ausonius died in 395A.D., and did not live to see the Romans negotiate with and bribe Alaric and the Goths several times to avoid a sack of the city: eventually the bribery simply encouraged the Goths to return again, and in 410 A.D. Alaric and the Goths entered Rome and sacked it.
Does any of this sound familiar? Ironic “immigration,” bribing enemies with “foreign aid,” pretending that your enemies are “allies” and hoping that they will just go away if you negotiate and bribe them enough?
After Gratian died, Ausonius left Rome and stayed on his estates in France, writing nature poetry. Nothing in his poems betrays the chaos and decay around him! Was his poetry an escape? Or did he simply not see, or not want to admit, what was happening around him?
We do not know.
William F. Buckley about 40 years ago asked in an essay: if you lived in a declining age, would you be able to know it? Or would you – perhaps – accept everything around you as normal, and not see it as part of a long-term trend downward?
Future historians might trace the decline of America to the rise of the self-indulgent “bread and circuses” generations born after World War II, the generations who refused to sacrifice for a decisive win in Vietnam, who demanded ever more “freedom” from morals while shackling themselves to drugs and immorality, the generations who refused to continue the epic of space exploration (the first astronauts were part of the WW II generation) in favor of an easier, cozy “save the planet” and “help the poor” mentality.
The Reagan/Bush I years – the last gasp of the WWII generation – could not stop the coming wave.
Semiotics is a branch of social studies which looks at the “signals” a society sends out and then tries to determine what these signals might mean.
I look at the failure of our society to stand united behind the effort in Iraq for even 18 months!
I look at Ground Zero in NYC – still empty after 7 years!!! – and contrast that with the construction of the Empire State Building in that same city – done in 13 months!!! – DURING THE GREAT DEPRESSION!
I look at our failure to build a space station on our own, to have a moon base, to have a manned Mars expedition, nearly 40 years after the WWII generation took us to the moon.
And now I look at the monstrosity of a President Obama, a modern day cultural Alaric, a barbarian who wants to control our modern Rome in order to sack it, elected by a self-centered society of perpetual teenagers, and I remember William F. Buckley’s rhetorical question:
“If you lived in a declining age, would you be able to know it?”