The New Dark Ages
This is not about Afghanistan per se. Rather, it concerns civilization and savagery and what it takes to maintain one and avoid the other.
Most Americans (historical illiterates that they are) assume that what we have now – the hard-won fruits of civilization – are organic, that they sprung full-blown from the brow of Jefferson, or one of the Founding Fathers who didn’t own slaves, maybe the one they made a musical about.
A while back, so the story goes, a bunch of Europeans who believed in diversity and inclusiveness sailed over here and decided it would be really cool to have a country with representative government, where civil liberties were respected and the masses could keep what they earned.
Seriously, civilization is always a goal reached after a long and arduous struggle. It’s never handed to you gift-wrapped. Americans had to break a millennial-old pattern to get to where we are now.
Throughout most of history, there were rulers and subjects – conquerors and enslaved populations. The Huns, the Vikings and Visigoths, Muslim warriors, Mongols and Manchus…they were the norm.
The conquerors (who eventually became rulers) took what they wanted – your crops, your livestock, your women. If you complained, they killed you. Sometimes they killed you anyway, because they didn’t like the way you looked, or lived or you wouldn’t embrace their religion or ideology. (The Taliban is making a list, checking it twice….)
What we have in the West today took millennia to achieve.
In the United States, there were the struggles of the settlers and pioneers. We won our independence from the mightiest empire on earth. We produced a magnificent system of government, based on a written Constitution with a Bill of Rights, that’s been copied dozens of times since.
We fought a particularly bloody civil war to rectify an ancient wrong – which still exists in most of the uncivilized world. We fought fascism across the globe in 1941-45. We fought communism in Korea and Vietnam, and may be forced to fight it again as Red China moves ever closer to a confrontation with the West.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we had our second American Revolution. We called it the Industrial Revolution.
Today, we are drawing down the capital of the past. Still, we live in homes that are climate-controlled year-round. Food is a trip to the refrigerator or just a short ride away at the local supermarket. Medicine gets more miraculous by the day. There’s a dazzling array of entertainment at our fingertips. Most of us think we’re roughing it if cable is out for a few hours.
But – aided by historical amnesia and apathy -- an army of busy worms are eating away at the apple.
They include racial resentment (which spans the spectrum from race riots to reparations to Critical Race Theory), the appeal of suicide by socialism for the young and feckless, a war on energy production to combat climate change (which we can’t control anyway), a refusal to control our borders, the breakdown of law in the cities, turning the country into a semi-police state to combat a virus and trillions spent (mostly on credit) to buy votes.
I wish I could take each of the Boobus Americanus and magically transport them to Havana, Caracas, Pyongyang, Tehran or Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to see how subjects live – a place where they kill you or torture you or mutilate you because they don’t like the way you dress or talk or pray. It’s called savagery or barbarism and it’s never been closer to toppling civilization. (Apologies to Rousseau, but there’s nothing noble about savages.)
Civilization is more than hanging gardens or aqueducts (though plumbing helps). It’s the rule of law made by representative bodies, applied fairly. It’s private property. It’s rights. It’s modern dentistry and supersonic aircraft. It’s churches and synagogues maintained not by the power of the state, but by faith. It’s police and military to protect us from savages within and without.
Our material prosperity rests on a foundation of law (both human and divine), shared memory, custom, commitment and sacrifice. Remove the latter and the former will inevitably fall.
Afghanistan was a psychological victory for savagery. Now, the enemies of civilization in Beijing, Tehran and terrorist strongholds around the world believe their day is fast approaching.
Barbarians are prowling the perimeters, constantly probing for weaknesses. (To make matters worse, many watch American television.) Unless we figure out fast what we have and why it’s worth fighting for, and what it will take to preserve it, they will win.
As Winston Churchill said during Britain’s darkest hour, when the civilized world confronted the savagery of Nazism: “If we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.”
Save your candles. The New Dark Ages are coming.