Jewish World Review Jan 19, 2012/ 24 Teves, 5772
Civilization in reverse
By Victor Davis Hanson
In Greek mythology, the prophetess Cassandra was doomed both to tell the truth and to be ignored. Our modern version is a bankrupt
News accounts abound now of impoverished
Such accounts may be exaggerations, but they should warn us that yearly progress is never assured. Instead, history offers plenty of examples of life becoming far worse than it had been centuries earlier. The biographer Plutarch, writing 500 years after the glories of classical
In 2000, Greeks apparently assumed that they had struck it rich with their newfound money-laden
The brief Euro mirage has vanished. Life in
In my state, Californians for 40 years have hiked taxes; grown their government; vastly expanded entitlements; put farmland, timberland and oil and gas lands off limits; and opened their borders to millions of illegal aliens. They apparently assumed that they had inherited so much wealth from prior generations and that their state was so naturally rich, that a continually better life was their natural birthright.
It wasn't. Now, as in
Traffic flows no better on most of the state's freeways than it did 40 years ago -- and often much worse, given the crumbling infrastructure and increased traffic. Once-excellent K-12 public schools now score near the bottom in nationwide tests. The
In 1960 there were far fewer government officials, far fewer prisons, far fewer laws and far fewer lawyers -- and yet the state was a far safer place than it is a half-century later. Technological progress -- whether iPhones or Xboxes -- can often accompany moral regress. There are not yet weeds in our cities, but those too may be coming.
The average Californian, like the average Greek, forgot that civilization is fragile. Its continuance requires respect for the law, tough-minded education, collective thrift, private investment, individual self-reliance, and common codes of behavior and civility -- and exempts no one from those rules. Such knowledge and patterns of civilized behavior, slowly accrued over centuries, can be lost in a single generation.
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Victor Davis Hanson, a classicist and military historian, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal. Comment by clicking here.
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