“At first the love of money, and then that of power, began to prevail, and these became, as it were, the sources of every evil. For avarice subverted honesty, integrity, and other honorable principles, and, in their stead, inculcated pride, inhumanity, contempt of religion, and general venality. Ambition prompted many to become deceitful; to keep one thing concealed in the breast, and another ready on the tongue; to estimate friendships and enmities, not by their worth, but according to interest; and to carry rather a specious countenance than an honest heart. These vices at first advanced but slowly, and were sometimes restrained by correction; but afterward, when their infection had spread like a pestilence, the state was entirely changed, and the government, from being the most equitable and praiseworthy, became rapacious and insupportable.”
—Gaius Sallustius Crispus (Sallust), 86 BC – 35 BC, a Roman historian
“Democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.”
—Oscar Wilde, 1854-1900
“There is none righteous, no, not one.”
“The problem with people is that they’re only human.”
—Bill Watterson, Author of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes
From the classics to the comics, people through the centuries have noted that they and their fellow humans are irredeemably flawed, and therefore the governments they institute among themselves must naturally suffer the same imperfections; it is why the American Republic was erected upon a system of checks and balances, a combination our Founders hoped would ameliorate the more detrimental effects that human nature imposes on the affairs of men. But just as ink on paper cannot ensure a state that is benign, the deceitful alchemy of political rhetoric cannot transform its essence. Government, as George Washington warned, is force—a dangerous servant and a fearful master; and even a gilded blade can deliver a fatal cut.
Too many who purport to represent us have transformed that privilege into a lifetime sinecure. They have shed the mask of the bandit for the lawmaker’s pen, secured in their perfidy by the approval of those with whom they have divided the spoils. They insist that their crimes are virtues, measures necessary for equity and security. But equity is never attainable and security at the cost of liberty never abiding.
They enact in sealed chambers laws they do not apprehend; they condone restrictions upon the livelihoods of free citizens by regulatory decrees issued by an unelect elite; they immunize themselves from the consequences with which their actions burden others. And they prosper from our decline.
In the end it is we the people who have failed. We have been careless. We have failed to recognize as the fictions of unscrupulous partisans the honeyed promises that have eroded our liberty and exhausted our wealth. The inculcation of envy begets not parity but disorder. In our conceit, we have valued incautious change over the conservation of immutable principle. We have relaxed our vigilance and allowed the enemies of freedom to enter our gates and establish redoubts from whence they attack our customs and our culture. We have permitted the servants of the people to become their masters and the antagonists of liberty to pose as its champions.
But our decline has been intentioned by the adherents of a particular philosophy, not preordained by an impartial fate. It is reversible. Prosperity can be regained, probity restored, demagoguery and deviancy banished again from the public square. All this can be done.
The choice is ours.
It always has been.