Traditionalism vs. Modern Society

roman-ruinsIn the book Starship Troopers, at one point Robert Heinlein presents us with a classroom scene in which the instructor asks the students to supply a justification for the continued use of the existing governmental system. The students fumble around with answers that don’t work very well, after which the instructor gives them the answer he was looking for; “because it works.”

 

Throughout history societies have come and gone. Historians have posited various reasons for why that has happened. Rome has often been a favorite subject with these writers with Gibbon’s massive tome being granted the status of a starting point upon which much else is based. Adrian Goldsworthy, more recently and more thoughtfully examined what happened and gave a much better analysis based largely on the incessant internecine warfare between Rome and breakaway political entities that had to be subdued repeatedly until the Empire effectively bled itself dry, at least militarily and financially until it was unable to withstand outside pressures and disappeared with a whimper rather than a colossal crash, as one might expect.

 

Comparisons between Rome and the United States have been fairly common history class material, as two nations, which were dominant powers in their time. But there the valid comparison ends because Rome’s position was largely based on military achievements, while the USA achieved primarily due to economic power that enabled military might, not for imperialism, but for purposes of defending ideology and moral values upon which the nation was based. In short, it was defending what worked.

 

But in the second half of the 20th century things changed things considerably as the successful system that should have been maintained, was abandoned by many influential social institutions. Suddenly, or perhaps not so suddenly, the ideas that worked were no longer good enough.

 

Part of what happened was a desire for various factions to obtain greater political power. For others it was a modern myth of obtaining what they referred to as social justice. Still others claimed that the system was useless because it was imperfect, and if it was less imperfect than the competition, that was no reason to maintain it, as the best possible option. In the end, it seemed that too many people were willing to disseminate and believe propaganda that was self destructive, rather than self-improving. This was not what happened with Rome.

 

But where Rome and the United States are quite similar is in one respect that cannot be denied for any other successful civilization, either. That one respect is that successful societies are built on systems that work in the time and place where they are instituted. What when wrong with many of them was that they either were static and unable to adjust to account for a changing world, or they abandoned their systems for any number of reasons. Thus, Rome did not adapt its system, but instead, abandoned key portions of it, many of which were oriented on a base of patriotism, without which any nation will fall. Today’s social institutions in the United Sates prefer to teach internationalism, and ignore they faults of what the claim is better, while ignoring the positives of what was accomplished at home. Developments in business, technology, and becoming the arsenal of democracy were now irrelevant because they violated the idea that no one nation is better than another.

 

But these supposedly new ideas are either untried, and therefore not necessarily better, or are, in fact, old and tired failures such as communism and its little brother, socialism. Neither works because, as Margaret Thatcher pointed out, sooner or later you run out of other people’s money. What America has been doing over the last several decades is abandoning what works. And in many instances this is justified because it is the product of “outdated thinking,” or some instances, considered just plain foolishness, as Judeo-Christian religion is being relegated to in some circles.

 

What is being ignored, again, is that there are reasons why certain ideas or systems stick around and the most important of these is, again, because they work. Things that sound “new and exciting” are not necessarily new, and the excitement may be a matter of publicity and faddism. Neither is justification for abandoning past tradition, particularly when that tradition and the system of which it is part and parcel provides society with what it wants and needs.

 

Those who claim that social structures that date back thousands of years are outdated in light of modern times, ignore one very simple fact. Just because something is old doesn’t mean that it is useless or outdated; particularly in light of the fact that people haven’t changed all that much, but instead are trying to fit the square peg of the human being into a round hold of a system that is not shaped for their success.

 

And this brings us to the ultimate irony in what is happening in the United States. In order to bring about a supposedly more just and equitable system the nation is turning to progressively more corrupt individuals who seek, not to spread the wealth around (which can only happen through economic growth) but to concentrate that wealth in the hands of themselves and their cronies. The cronies in business feed the creature of big government and the government grants them the ability to freeze out competition or gain other benefits that only accrue in a powerful and corrupt system; a system that the American system was supposed to prevent from happening.

 

The tradition of American exceptionalism worked, and it worked because people believed, not that we were better, but that we had a better system and more opportunities to achieve. Abandoning that tradition that worked is a violation of common sense and ignores the lessons of history.

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