Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2013/ 4 Adar 5773
Why do societies give up?
By Victor Davis Hanson
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Why do once-successful societies ossify and decline?
Hundreds of reasons have been adduced for the fall of
One recurring theme seems consistent in Athenian literature on the eve of the city's takeover by Macedon: social squabbling over slicing up a shrinking pie. Athenian speeches from that era make frequent reference to lawsuits over property and inheritance, evading taxes, and fudging eligibility for the dole. After the end of the
For Gibbon and later French scholars, "Byzantine" became a pejorative description of a top-heavy Greek bureaucracy that could not tax enough vanishing producers to sustain a growing number of bureaucrats. In antiquity, inflating the currency by turning out cheap bronze coins was often the favored way to pay off public debts, while the law became fluid to address popular demands rather than to protect time-honored justice.
After the end of World War II, most of today's powerhouses were either in ruins or still preindustrial --
In comparison to
The gradual decline of a society is often a self-induced process of trying to meet ever-expanding appetites, rather than a physical inability to produce past levels of food and fuel, or to maintain adequate defense. Americans have never had safer workplaces or more sophisticated medical care -- and never have so many been on disability.
For hundreds of years, the outmanned legions of the tiny and poor
Given our unsustainable national debt -- nearly
Americans have never led such affluent material lives -- at least as measured by access to cell phones, big-screen TVs, cheap jet travel and fast food. Obesity rather than malnutrition is the greater threat to national health. Flash mobs go after electronics stores, not food markets. Americans spend more money on Botox, face lifts and tummy tucks than on the age-old scourges of polio, small pox and malaria.
If Martians looked at the small box houses, one-car families and primitive consumer goods of the 1950s, they would have thought the postwar
By any historical marker, the future of Americans has never been brighter.
Yet we don't talk confidently about capitalizing and expanding on our natural and inherited wealth. Instead, Americans bicker over entitlement spoils as the nation continues to pile up trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Enforced equality rather than liberty is the new national creed. The medicine of cutting back on government goodies seems far worse than the disease of borrowing trillions from the unborn to pay for them.
History has shown that a government's redistribution of shrinking wealth, in preference to a private sector's creation of new sources of it, can prove more destructive than even the most deadly enemy.
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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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