“A great and noble nation will not sever its political from its moral life.”
– Sam Tilden
Time was, when a scandalized politician and his paramour would both slink mercifully away.
Not so today.
Cybersleaze Anthony Weiner and his cyberslut Sydney Leathers aren’t just staying in the public eye, they’re doing it proudly – he as a New York mayoral candidate, she as an adult entertainer who finds conservative women revolting and inhibited.
“Conservative girls are really uptight. It makes me think of all those, like you know, Fox News fembots who obviously are self-loathing or they wouldn’t be Republican and female, in my opinion,” she says.
If life were about nothing more than a good time, she might be right. But that’s not what life is about. In fact, as if to prove the point, life has a way of seeing inveterate pleasure-seekers crash and burn.
We noted the death of shame in an editorial July 28. But in reality, it’s worse than that: In America today, you can openly promote loose morals and express contempt for morality – and be celebrated.
This isn’t just a matter of “uptight” tsk-tsking of immorality. It’s a matter of survival for a self-governed nation.
“No people who lost their character kept their liberties,” says Lawrence W. Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education. “Bad character leads to bad policy and bad economics, which is bad for liberty. Without character, a free society is not just unlikely, it’s impossible.”
It was, ironically enough, a historian in ancient Rome, Livy, who noted ominously:
“There is an exceptionally beneficial and fruitful advantage to be derived from the study of the past. There you see, set in the clear light of historical truth, examples of every possible type. From these you can select for yourself and your country what to imitate, and also what, as being mischievous in its inception and disastrous in its consequences, you should avoid.”
It turned out to be an epitaph for the Roman empire – and perhaps an omen for America.
Ancient Rome, like America, was a republic born of the throwing off of tyranny. It initially feared a repeat of tyranny so much that it established a system of diffuse power that included dual consuls who were term-limited.
But Romans eventually learned they could, as Reed notes, “not just work for a living, but vote for one.” In other words, they began to elect leaders who would take from others and give to them. It changed the relationship between government and citizen, and how people looked at income and work.
Pretty soon it was free wheat for the masses, and a third of Rome was receiving some sort of subsidy. There was easy and even free credit, a debased currency, bailed-out cities, free wheat now baked into bread – and a withering of means testing for benefits. Freedoms were lost to dependency, and politicians became increasingly drunk on power, politics progressively vitriolic.
Any of this sound vaguely familiar?
For Reed, a Newnan resident, the lessons of Rome’s collapse and similar historical misadventures are threefold:
1) you can’t have freedom for long without responsibility
2) restrained and diffuse power is preferable to unrestrained and concentrated power
3) “The here-and-now is rarely as important as tomorrow. Plan accordingly.”
“Romans once lived for the future,” Reed adds.
So did Americans. Today, we not only tend to eat our own seed corn, but to also have the government provide us with somebody else’s.
Sometimes literally: A news report this past week told of economically depressed mountain folks in North Carolina who repeatedly turned down federal government offers of free food, but finally relented when offered free seed. The social worker who found a way to break down the residents’ dedication to self-reliance got an award for doing so.
Like those good folks’ resolve, character, it seems, is crumbling in America.
Reed believes there is no easy answer, that young people must be taught the virtues of character early and often.
“America,” says Reed, “needs more people who can’t be bought.”
We couldn’t agree more.