Course of Empire

So it is early Autumn 2005 and I’m in the middle of the Student Union building at the University of Oklahoma when I hear a voice ring out: “I’ll stop comparing the United States to the Roman Empire just as soon as the comparison stops fitting so seamlessly!”

My interest piqued, I immediately began eavesdropping, and was sorely tempted to invite myself into the socio-political discourse taking place across the room. Unfortunately, the conversation returned to its previous normal volume, and I chickened out. Probably behind the lame excuse of needing to get to a class or something. To this day I still wonder just what exactly they were talking about.

Fast forward to a few months ago, as I was reading a book tracing the growth and developments of western civilization sent to me by an old professor.

The author, writing of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, surmised that it was more of a metaphysical inertia that toppled Rome more than anything else. I came to the line: “Everyone aimed at security but no one accepted responsibility,” and was absolutely riveted where I sat. I felt a twinge of vertigo and stared into space long enough for my daughter to ask if I was okay.

It was a moment that I imagine rang for me almost as resonantly as that of the Apostle Peter, when realizing he had betrayed Jesus Christ upon hearing the third crowing of a rooster.

This long-muted word of warning, written by a somewhat obscure American philosopher in 1944, echoed down through the long hall of history, and struck a chord deep within a 21st century reader.

Having long studied the history of this country as well as that of Rome, and the rest of the world too, I am apprised of the easy comparisons found between the two. Not only that, but all such nations. In some ways there are many common attributes, but each has it divergences as well.

If we are to steer away from this path this empire must find its center again, to renew its forgotten covenants with heaven and earth, instead of warring against both in an ethos of utter self-contradiction. Innovation. Restoration.

We must stop pursuing a diaphanous security and begin owning up to our responsibility. None of us are innocent and both sides must see the blood the have on their hands, on our hands. Barring this, we stand upon the threshold of our own undoing.

Of course, we will instead choose another swing of the pendulum.

There’s a famous painting series called “The Course of Empire,” which captures a certain inevitability of human civilization.

Our nation is following a trail that was blazed by her great European ancestors; themselves bound to those of antiquity and those all arising from the ashes of ancient tribalism.

We are well past our consummation and speeding onward toward destruction.

Many act almost eager to accept this fate, even going so far as to bicker over which of the marauding tribes of our day we should ascribe as barbarians. Be they illegal immigrants to Wall Street robber-barons or Madison Avenue‘s culture merchants. Some scholars point to an internal collapse while other claim external pressures, while others compromise with a mixture of both.

When I talk to those rare few that have abandoned the bifurcated distillation that we call the two current political parties, I find some comfort in whatever maelstrom looms in the year of our Lord 2012.

I also hope that others, like me, have grown too weary to play a part in the Republican vs. Democrat game of political football. For both have lost their way, as well as the confidence of the American people. One side may well win a brief sortie, and cast a limited influence for a few years here or there, by the lessons of history speak with a greater authority than the latest rallying catchphrase.

We need no rabble clamoring on the national mall to unstop our collective ears from the honey potion smooth-voiced ideologues continue to pour, nor army of rampaging Visigoths storming the gates to lay siege to the city.

Alas, anything that could have been done has been done, what happens next is as inexorable as the turning of the tides.

So rolls the gears of Time, and so goes the course of Empire.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s