The Greek city-states in the fourth-century BC, fifth-century AD Rome, and the Western European democracies after World War I all knew they could not continue as usual with their fiscal, social, political, and economic behavior. But all these states and societies feared far more the self-imposed sacrifices that might have saved them.
Mid-fifteenth-century Byzantium was facing endemic corruption, a radically declining birthrate and shrinking population, and the end of civic militarism—all the last-gasp symptoms of an irreversible decline. Its affluent ruling and religious orders and expansive government services could no longer be supported by disappearing agrarians and the overtaxed mercantile middle class. Returning to the values of the Emperor Justinian’s sixth-century empire that had once ensured a vibrant Byzantine culture of stability and prosperity throughout the old Roman east remained a nostalgic daydream. Given the hardship and sacrifice that would have been required to change the late Byzantine mindset, most residents of Constantinople plodded on to their rendezvous with oblivion in 1453. Read more →
By Victor Davis Hanson // Town Hall
Pessimists often compare today’s troubled America to a tottering late Rome or an insolvent and descending British Empire. But medieval Europe (roughly A.D. 500 to 1450) is the more apt comparison.
The medieval world was a nearly 1,000-year period of spectacular, if haphazard, human achievement — along with endemic insecurity, superstition and two, rather than three, classes.
The great medieval universities — at Bologna, Paris and Oxford — continued to make strides in science. They were not unlike the medical and engineering schools at Harvard and Stanford. But they were not centers of free thinking.
Instead, medieval speech codes were designed to ensure that no one questioned the authority of church doctrine. Culturally or politically incorrect literature of the classical past, from Aristophanes to Petronius, was censored as either subversive or hurtful. Read more →
During the last days of the Ancien Régime, French Queen Marie Antoinette frolicked in a fake rural village not far from the Versailles Palace—the Hameau de la Reine (“the Queen’s hamlet”). “Peasant” farmers and herdsmen were imported to interact, albeit carefully, with the royal retinue in an idyllic amusement park. The Queen would sometimes dress up as a milkmaid and with her royal train do a few chores on the “farm” to emulate the romanticized masses, but in safe, apartheid seclusion from them.
The French Revolution was already on the horizon and true peasants were shortly to march on Versailles, but the Queen had no desire to visit the real French countryside to learn of the crushing poverty of those who actually milked cows and herded sheep for a living. It is hard to know what motivated the queen to visit the Hameau—was it simply to relax in her own convenient and sanitized Arcadia, or was it some sort of pathetic attempt to better understand the daily lives of the increasing restive French masses?
The American coastal royalty does not build fake farms outside of its estates. But these elites, too, can grow just as bored with their privileged lives as Marie Antoinette did. Instead of hanging out with milk maids in ornamental villages, our progressive elites, at the same safe distance from the peasantry, prefer to show their solidarity with the dispossessed through angry rhetoric.
Take the case of Colin Kaepernick, the back-up quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers who makes $19 million a year (or about $20,000 per minute of regular season play). He has been cited by National Football League officials in the past for his use of the N-word, yet he refuses to stand for the pregame singing of the national anthem because he believes that his country is racist and does not warrant his respect. His stunt gained a lot of publicity and he now sees himself as a man of the revolutionary barricades. A number of other NFL athletes, as well as those in other sports, have likewise refused to stand for the national anthem to express solidarity with what they see as modern versions of the oppressed peasantry. But Kaepernick and his peers make more in one month than many Americans make in an entire lifetime. Still, for these members of the twenty-first-century Versailles crowd, the easiest way of understanding the lives of the underclass is expressing empathy for them for no more than a minute or two. Read more →
Technology hasn’t changed the core of who we are, and history proves it.
In today’s technically sophisticated and globally connected world, we assume life has been completely reinvented. In truth, it has not changed all that much.
Facebook and Google may have recalibrated our lifestyles, but human nature, geography, and culture are nearly timeless. Even as ideologies and governments come and go, the same old, same old problems and challenges remain.
Compare what dominated the news in 1966, 50 years ago.
Abroad, Israel was constantly fighting on the West Bank against Palestinian guerrilla groups and in the air over Syria. It is likely that in another 50 years the story will remain about the same.
The Middle East in 1966 was going up in flames, just as it is today — and in many of the same places. The Syrian government was overthrown in a coup. The Saudis, Jordanians, and Egyptians were involved in a civil war in Yemen. The Egyptian government executed Islamists charged with planning a theocratic takeover. Read more →
The Roman empire faced a challenge similar to what the EU faces.
By Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online
When standing today at Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, everything appears indistinguishably affluent and serene on both sides.
It was not nearly as calm some 1,900 years ago. In A.D. 122, the exasperated Roman emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of an 80-mile, 20-foot-high wall to protect Roman civilization in Britain from the Scottish tribes to the north.
We moderns often laugh at walls and fortified boundaries, dismissing them as hopelessly retrograde, ineffective, or unnecessary. Yet they still seem to fulfill their mission on the Israeli border, the 38th parallel in Korea, and the Saudi-Iraqi boundary: separating disparate states.
On the Roman side of Hadrian’s Wall there were codes of law, habeas corpus, aqueducts, and the literature of Cicero, Virgil, and Tacitus — and on the opposite side a violent, less sophisticated tribalism.
Read more →
By Victor Davis Hanson // Works and Days by PJ Media
I grew up listening to stories of turn-of-the-century rural Central California from my grandfather Rees Alonzo Davis (1890-1976). He was the third generation of the Davis family to have lived in my present house—great nephew of Daniel Rhoades, who had walked into the High Sierra in early 1847 as part of a party sent to help save the Donner Party. Years later, after a small strike in the Mother Lode, Rhoades became a land baron near the shores of the now dry Tulare Lake, in modern-day Lemoore (where his strange mausoleum is currently a California historical site). He died, I think, when Rees was five or six, but his Rhoades portrait still hangs in my stairwell.
Much of my grandfather’s lectures concerned the law and his appreciative sense of progress. Without law in the wild days of his preteen years, sometimes farmers, he lamented, shot it out to adjudicate competing claims over water rights from a common ditch. He referenced a land of early epidemics; his daughter, my aunt, caught a summer polio virus in 1921, and lived most of her life in the living room of my house (d.1980), courageously struggling against a disease that had left her scarcely able to move.
Read more →
By Victor Davis Hanson // Tribune Media Services
University students across the country — at Amherst, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, UC Berkeley and dozens of other campuses — are caught up in yet another new fad.
This time, the latest college craze is a frenzied attempt to rename campus buildings and streets. Apparently some of those names from the past do not fit students’ present litmus tests on race, class and gender correctness. Read more →
Forrest Gump usually had a positive role to play at the hinges of fate; the equally ubiquitous Hillary Gump’s cameos have made history far worse.
by Victor Davis Hanson // PJ Media
The fictional and cinema hero Forrest Gump somehow always managed to turn up at historic moments in the latter twentieth century. But whereas Forrest usually had a positive role to play at the hinges of fate, the equally ubiquitous Hillary Gump usually appeared as a bit player who made things far worse.
In our time, sexism and racism have become the province of the rich.
Discrimination by sex and by race are ancient innate pathologies and transcend particular cultures. But the American idea of sexismand racism in the 21st century — unfailing, endemic, and institutional discrimination by a majority-white-male-privileged culture against both women and so-called non-white minorities — has largely become a leftist construct.
We can see how these two relativist -isms work in a variety of ways.