Armchair historians are wont to romanticize the past, at times. There is a temptation to think it would have been better to live in this era, or that one. On that note, one of my favorite C.S. Lewis quotations is this one:
“Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office it is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor.”
“There is no Emperor.”
“No Emperor…” began Merlin…. He sat still for some minutes wrestling with a world which he had never envisaged.
It captures a defining trait of Western Civilization: its focus on change. When you study Chinese history, you see a remarkably static system. Ruling dynasties come and go. Barbarians invade from time-to-time, but the bureaucracy conquers them all in time. Eventually, it conquered the very notion of a throne entirely. Communist China was always Chinese first, and Communist second, something that fractured its relationship with other Communist states.
Ancient Egypt, Sumeria (and its successors, Akkadia, Babylonia, Assyria, Chaldea…) were similar in this regard. For three thousand years, Egypt changed but little. India, likewise, possesses a level of appreciation for the static, sometimes fracturing, sometimes unifying, but always India.
The West is different than all of them in this respect, and it is both the source of Western Civilization’s strength and its great weakness. Its history is full of moments like the one C.S. Lewis describes in the mind of Merlin: a shock that what seemed static, was not.
Imagine residing in Constantinople in 1204, with the Crusaders camped outside, throwing their taunts at the Imperial defenders. Could any of those residents truly imagine that soon their city would burn? For nearly 1000 years, it had been the capital of the Roman Empire, inviolate, wealthy beyond avarice, the Queen of Cities ruling over nations.
The next day the survivors must have felt like Merlin did, asking what had become of their Emperor and his Empire, as they trudged into the distance, chained and left to bondage.
This day is coming for America. It is coming soon. The cleansing fire that sweeps old growth forests, and makes way for the new, is on its way. Historians, amateur and otherwise, can sense the tide of history moving. The slash-burn of the West had begun. As Rome fell, as Byzantium vanished, as the British Empire crumbled, so now comes our turn.
But don’t despair. Something new will rise from the remains. That is what defines the West. That is what has always defined it. New growth replaces the old. Reinvention and recycling have been our ways since at least the quasi-mythical times of Agamemnon and his Trojan War. It is both sad and hopeful, a source for maudlin and thing to celebrate.
Soon, the time will come when they will call for the Feds, and no one will answer. Someone will wonder where they have gone and why they have left. Like Merlin, they will wrestle with a world they did not envisage.