In 455, The Vandals Sacked Rome

In 2000, They Don't Have To. They Live There.

One might be pressed to prove that our country is in fatal decline, but I think a lot of us can smell it. The light dims. Things no longer work. Too many curves point downward, too many of the measures of civilization fail. We bask, still, in the waning sunset of a dying greatness, but it won't last. Maybe our time is over.

A flourishing economy can hide many evils, and does. Computers grow faster, cellular telephones proliferate, and the Internet, perhaps America's last great contribution to the world, advances apace. Employment is high, masking for the moment the rot beneath. Decline, if it comes, as it comes, will be comfortable, a moral and spiritual sump instead of a time of starvation.

Yet it is decline.

Look about. Society coarsens around us. Courtesy withers, vileness flourishes, foul language pours from the radio and the screens that circumscribe our lives, along with witless violence, grotesquerie vying with bloody grotesquerie, with perversion, sadism, and casual murder. We no longer avoid the gutter, but bathe in it. At dinner time, when the young watch, television lovingly portrays a callousness toward death and immorality that makes a Weimar bordello seem a venue of childlike innocence, that calls up the degraded mob in the days of the Roman games.

Our children have never known anything else.

Schooling wanes. The forms of education remain, concealing the vanishing of substance. Daily, word of the catastrophe passes along the Internet. Students in wealthy school districts are discovered to be unable to pass a simple examination in algebra. We find credentialed teachers to be ignorant of their subjects. Our once-great universities give unearned grades to all students, while letting them avoid difficult subjects, while allowing them to pretend to scholarship by taking vacuous majors in Women's Studies and Black Studies. The students rule the universities like barbarians from a dark forest.

The arts have sunk to the level of an amusement park. We have artists of merit, but we honor only blotsters and daubmeisters in our thoroughly silly public prints. Works of sculpture in cold truth often cannot be distinguished from the contents of a junkyard. Language has declined, grammar gone into hiding, the subjunctive disappeared, pride in articulateness given way to something close to shame. The jungle grunting of rap passes for music.

Except in technology, the candle of American civilization gutters.

We have somehow lost the gumption to say, "No." To this invertebracy we owe all else. We lack the confidence in our beliefs to tell our children, "You will study algebra and Shakespeare and history because these are the essentials of culture, and because we are your parents and say that you will study them. Ten years hence, you will thank us." We lack the confidence to laugh at inartistic absurdity paraded as aesthetic advancement, or to say that we will not stand for gory dismemberment in cinema. We haven't the will to control crime, to outlaw pornography, to impose ourselves.

Above all, we lack the strength to resist the minorities. This will destroy us.

The best of us cower before the worst. We withdraw into ourselves, into our private lives and families, saying quietly to each other, "It is hopeless." The worst, who do least, grow ever more assertive. They want more. We give it to them.

Instead of saying, "Here are the standards of our civilization. Live up to them," we lower the measures of all things for their convenience. Time and again, monotonously, with the deadening predictability of sunrise, we see that minorities cannot do things, and so to placate them we lower standards for ourselves. If they cannot earn a teaching certificate, we reduce the requirements, and so educate neither our children nor theirs. This folly has become reflexive, dominating discourse, governing policy, instituting a double standard, engendering farce. We judge everything by whether the complaining classes will approve.

We do not learn. The Romans made the mistake two millennia ago of providing free corn to the urban rabble. Soon they had the eternal mob, simmering in the slums, living pointlessly, breeding extravagantly, demanding entertainment and threatening to explode if not pandered to. As with Rome, so with America. Instead of bread and circuses, we provide welfare and television, but the principle is the same. The cruelty of television surpasses that of the gladiatorial games.

Welfare works badly. Charity prolonged becomes charity expected. Demands met encourage further demands. People who contribute little or nothing to society grow accustomed to contributing nothing, and regard leisure as their due. Knowing nothing, they do nothing. And so finally they become superfluous, as society learns to live without them. They are merely there.

The communists prattled of the dictatorship of the proletariat, while practicing the dictatorship of the dictatorship. We have actually achieved the rule of the worst. The unproductive, the dull, the witless, and the shiftless have found that they can marshal more votes than can their betters, and thus they have grasped the levers of power. Do you find study difficult? Why, demand easier courses, and prevail through numbers. Have the emoluments associated with scholarship and diligence eluded you? Assert that you have suffered discrimination, and hold out your begging bowl.

None dare say, "No." I do not understand why.

Our moral compass no longer functions. Good and Evil have no meaning. A miasmic faith that one should do one's thing, no matter what that thing is, keeps us from making the simplest moral judgements. Where once we believed that the better was preferable to the worse, we now believe that the worse, being more democratic, is preferable to the better. The promulgation of standards has become a sign of elitism, evidence of darkest sin.

Ah, but the rub comes last. We cannot buck, we cannot clamor against the gathering twilight, because of the eerie censorship emanating from everywhere and nowhere, the near-Soviet fear that we will be denounced to the commissariat on vague charges of transgressing vaguer rules. We tremble to struggle. We can can lose our jobs if we say anything to offend the protected groups--and everything offends them.

Night is coming, and we are afraid.