The Big Picture: Our Curiously Failing Civilization

Anyone who knows the basics of American history knows that our country has faced several great challenges during its 236 years. There was the founding era (a war against the world’s greatest military power and then the organizing of the government), the Civil War era, the Great Depression/WWII era, and then the more drawn-out Cold War era.

Obviously we were due for another such crisis. The events of 9-11-01 might have suggested that a prolonged war against history’s latest manifestation of crazy jihadists would’ve been the challenge of the hour. Thanks to President George W. Bush’s leadership, however, the country appears on the right course for dealing with that successfully.

Instead it looks as if domestic policies are where this generation’s battle will take place, and it brings to mind Abraham Lincoln’s words (emphasis added):

At what point shall we expect the approach of danger?…Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never! All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined … could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

This domestic policy challenge has two inseparable parts. We’ve lost ground both culturally and economically because of the lousy leadership on the political right. It’s not any more complicated than that. To correct our course, we need only recruit competent, smarter and more ethical people into the political process.

Recent posts on this website have touched on this—biggest-of-all big pictures—the survival of America as we’ve known it.

Just yesterday I quoted Thomas Sowell on “the moral infrastructure” which can corrode and crumble:

The moral infrastructure is one of the intangibles, without which the tangibles don’t work. Like the physical infrastructure, its neglect in the short run invites disaster in the long run.

The other day I posted an excerpt from an interview with historian Victor Davis Hanson where he said that “Decline is a choice, it always is by every society”:

[I]f we think that we’re not going to be good unless we’re perfect and we are going to socially engineer predetermined results about human nature and we are going to do this with a technocratic class, like Plato’s overseers or guardians, and we are going to have an all powerful monolithic state that’s going to direct our lives and destroy American initiative, then yeah, we are going to end up like England in 1950 – it’s inevitable.

I also posted an excerpt from Hillsdale professor Paul Rahe’s book “Soft Despotism, Democracy’s Drift”:

In consequence of our abandonment of our religious and moral heritage, of our rejection of the spirit of individual responsibility and the principles of limited government, over our own people today . . . there ‘is elevated an immense, tutelary power,’ whose aim is to take ‘sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate.’

Two days ago an article was posted at that’s well worth your time. It’s by Jack Curtis and it’s titled “The Big Picture: Our Curiously Failing Civilization.” Here are just a few excerpts:

Governments around the world are in various stages of financial failure, all seemingly trying to be Argentina. Curious, no? Look at debt and deficits; you see government spending issues; most of the few exceptions have other problems. Look then at global migration patterns showing people leaving poor places for places going broke, an unhappy trend line. Look anywhere; we can’t seem to govern ourselves worldwide, while people protesting are multiplying everywhere.


For “rich” Europe and North America, it’s the famous doom of all democracies: the citizens have learned to vote others’ wealth to themselves via a devil’s compact with demagogues. Once in place, such deals can’t be controlled (Who’s re-elected for shutting off the goodies?) until they outrun available resources and impoverish the economy. “Kick the can down the road” (meaning past the next election) is the U.S. mantra for postponing the end-game…


When considering political collapse, we look for the signature social meltdown; a strong civilization may work through bad finances. Before they’re swept from history’s stage, civilizations rot from inside.  What do we see?

Western civilization was the Judeo-Christian replacement for failed Classical Europe. Its centrality was the general acceptance of Christian morality, built on widespread religious belief and embedded in governments and law. In what’s being called a post-Christian era, that’s dissolving; Western citizens are struggling with each other over such basics as human rights, obligations, behavior, and the value of human life.


More generally, the replacement of Christian morality with secular moral relativism has fueled social and political corruption and weakened the bonds that once held society together, again leaving only government to compel unity.

Like I said, Curtis’ article is well worth your time. Click here to read it.