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Posted:  September 2, 2013

By:  Eddie Wilson

tiberius-THUMB“When the admirable Tiberius upon becoming emperor, received a message from the Senate in which the conscript fathers assured him that whatever legislation he wanted would be automatically passed by them, he sent back word that this was outrageous. “Suppose the emperor is ill or mad or incompetent?” He returned their message. They sent it again. His response: “How eager you are to be slaves.” –- Edward Gibbon, History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Is there any doubt what has happened in America today and what is happening at this very hour? Can there be any doubt that our “President,” be he Democrat or Republican, has become the latter-day Roman Emperor? Can there be any doubt that we no longer live in a free, representative democracy? Can there be any doubt (as if there could be after George W. Bush) that the Constitution is null and void? Habeas Corpus? Gone. The Bill of Rights? No longer enforced. Limits on executive power? None. The “American Dream?” It died years ago. Can there be any doubt that the elites of this country now form a separate class of people entirely, who believe themselves above the law and think of the rest of us as the “little people?”

When both Neoliberals and Neoconservatives can agree to back the President in unilaterally bypassing Congress and the United Nations to intervene in a quagmire tinderbox that will explode into World War III with hardly any opposition, can there be thus any doubt of their madness and our collective stupidity? Can it not be seen how our leaders have utter contempt for the will of the people and the rule of law? They pass a universal health-care bill and exempt themselves. And not a word hardly is breathed of it in the press. Outrage died, I suppose, once honor, courage, dedication, hard work, and integrity died among the people. Thus it was with Rome:

“Rome lived on its principal till ruin stared it in the face. Industry is the only true source of wealth, and there was no industry in Rome. By day the Ostia road was crowded with carts and muleteers, carrying to the great city the silks and spices of the East, the marble of Asia Minor, the timber of the Atlas, the grain of Africa and Egypt; and the carts brought out nothing but loads of dung. That was their return cargo.” — Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Just as the Emperor Valens embarked on a disastrous campaign against the Goths in 376, the Austro-Hungarian Empire rolled the dice in 1914, and the British embarked on the feckless Suez campaign of 1956 (significantly, when their finances were in terrible shape), so the American Empire doubles its bets at the casino of history. It would vault the firmament to bring its purported enemies to heel, when the very basis of its power and the strength of its spiritual courage has ebbed away.

It is the expression of late imperial hubris, not just of a mad emperor, but of a whole governing system.

On the night of August 4th, 1914, Sir Edward Grey, the British Foreign Secretary, was in his office along with several couriers and undersecretaries who were feverishly working on draft documents in a desperate last-minute hope to avoid having to declare war on Germany for having invaded Belgium earlier in the day. The “Guns of August” had begun to rage a few days prior, and the Great War, which would engulf the world, change the course of history, and result in the deaths of millions, had come to Britain’s doorstep. Sitting at his desk late that night, the Big Ben bell tower began to chime the midnight bells. Rising from his seat with a tired, saddened, and forlorn look on his face, he looked out on the horizon of the London cityscape. With a quiet and resigned voice, he told the undersecretaries to quit working. The hour was nigh, and further effort futile: the midnight deadline for the Germans to say they were withdrawing from Belgium had been met, and no word had been received. Sir Edward then pronounced the most famous phrases of his generation, words that have reverberated in the annals of diplomatic history ever since: “The Lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our time.”

As the 19th century ended in August 1914, so, unless this madness is ended before it begins, the 20th century will end in August 2013.

Eddie Wilson  AP Government and History Teacher at Williamsburg Christian Academy and Interiors Aide at Colonial Williamsburg