Current events call to mind a question posed by columnist Cal Thomas: “Does America have an expiration date?”
History says all democracies do.
Sir John Bagot Glubb described the seven stages of empires: pioneers, conquests, commerce, affluence, intellect, decadence and finally, decline and collapse. From this historical perspective, one could argue that we stand on the doorstep of decline and collapse. But is it inevitable?
In his book “America’s Expiration Date,” Thomas offers his view of democracy-ending conflict among people and nations. “Human nature causes ... war, as do elements of that nature that can be found in America’s political conflicts,” he wrote. “They consist of envy of what others have ... and a sense of entitlement indicating that we should be given what they have.”
He observes that any government, leader, faith, party or people — given the right circumstances — is capable of becoming the self-justified aggressor.
These assertions and theories create a challenge for a nation built on a premise of God-given rights to all people.
The state of American politics demands that we stop and think critically about our behavior and freedom; not with disapproval — but objectively and comparatively. We, as citizens, seem to no longer know enough about freedom and government to defend ourselves against ambitious and entitled political forces.
Whether the debate is an election, a mandate or a civil right, we must logically recognize that when diametrically opposed views both claim absolute justification — even citing the same constitutional source — they cannot both be right. One or both sides are seeking political advantage. When debate lacks an objective baseline of truth, people are left to respond to their fear and anger by finding more proximate safe harbors — like party politics, a charismatic leader or some shared identity.
Such reactions, however, ignore and damage ultimate truth and productive outcomes.
The pure scholarship of our Constitution — including the underlying study of philosophy, history and government — created a system of self-governance meant to protect us from the mob mentality of simple majorities and monarchal consolidation of power.
Created amid deep disagreement, our government itself is a miraculous vision that survived division while seeking to create the system of checks and balances that enables a free people to peacefully address division in the future.
If there is an expiration on our freedom, it is only because we now disregard those principles.
Whatever our short-term responses may be — and they are all politically charged, to say the least — an understanding of the conditions of freedom and the practice of government is the only long-term solution. Every act of violence, intolerance and insurrection we have witnessed of late underscores the reality that such knowledge has not been sufficiently taught in public schools for decades. And every parent and grandparent — if you would spare your children and grandchildren turmoil in the future — should know that those inaccuracies and inadequacies are today more pronounced than ever.
There is a personal responsibility inherent in our form of government. Current leadership failures are the result of past failures of citizenship in electing those leaders and not holding them accountable. We will not find our way out of this current melee without correcting course.
Are we about to expire?
Our unique origins and belief in the seeds of divinity within the human soul argue that this is not inevitable. There is still time to change direction.
Thomas offers a call to recommit to upholding standards of decency and morality; teaching children to make wise choices; and opposing curriculum that alters or disparages the form and goals of our democracy.
I would add a recommitment to our most important institutions — including family, faith and education; a renewed focus on electing representatives based on their understanding of freedom and our form of government; and a reprioritization of expanded and sequential study of civics and history — the only way to equip future generations with the critical thinking skills needed for citizenship.
We can choose hope: not a hope for advantage or conquest, but rather a humble, principled and informed hope in the vision of our Constitution — written as the result of study and suffering and based on a dream that still sees beyond the years. We already possess a form of government designed to end violent conflict and earn its people the expectation that God will both shed his grace on us and, over time, mend our every flaw.
It is our republic — if we can keep it.
Rick B. Larsen is president of Sutherland Institute, a conservative think tank that advocates for a free market economy, civil society and community-driven solutions.