Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Thought for the Day

With all this talk about the environment, peak oil, recession, and what-have-you on this site today, perhaps this is a good time to recall Thomas Babington Macaulay’s query from 1830: “On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us?”

Discussions - 9 Comments

The trouble is that we don't see "nothing but improvement behind us." In history one sees the rise and fall of civilizations. I suspect that the pessimism comes from the realization that eventually, the other shoe will drop. In the mean time, it's probably a better bet to believe that things will continue as they have in the recent past.

Thank you. I just came back to write some such optimistic comment about the glorious inventiveness of man.

Mr Adams, surely there is a general positive trend, at least in the area of technology. Which of us would really be comfortable living in the environment of our favorite historical period?

Perhaps the pessimism is the sense for Americans anyway, upon looking back, that you can't really top this or that we are living in such a blessedly comfortable time and place the bubble will have to burst. However, most people I know have no sense of history and are not pessimistic at all, thinking that car driven on garbage, like in "Back to the Future" and solving two nasty problems at once, or some such invention is right around the corner.

I think there may also be a sense in which we don't believe we deserve the good things we have.

Who could?

And yet, the sense of entitlement in the country is staggering. We "deserve" gasoline at something like "fair" prices. Who gets to say what's fair?

And that latter what is frightening, that people feel smacked by the invisible hand and want to smack back.

I agree with Richard, although, as Kate says, there is "a general positive trend, at least in the area of technology", in the areas of social development, the trend is definately downward. The desintegration of the family unit, the sexualization (inevitably followed by perversion) of our culture, the expulsion of God from public or private life, the elimination from society of even a desire for righteousness, the increases of bitterness, depression and self-hatred, are all developments from which we are just beginning to see "the other shoe drop". Whether they admit it or not, people do have consciences, and however much they want to cheer and applaud sin, they know deep down inside that sometime soon, there is going to be an accounting.

Mechelle, wouldn't you say that all of the other things in your list derive from the central one, the expulsion of God from public and private life? Our being human and temporal means that all of those things, and more, would still be part of the trials of life. Yet I know I would not have a family, nor have survived bouts with depression, nor all sorts of other things, if God were not inescapable for me. As for you, too, I think.

But I looked up McCaulay, to see what else he might have written, and he said this: Nine-tenths the calamities of the human race are due to the union of high intelligence with low desires.

and this: The highest proof of virtue is to possess boundless power without abusing it. which pertains because democracy gives us each power, and look what we do with it.

I like this, too: I have long been convinced that institutions purely democratic must, sooner or later, destroy liberty, or civilization, or both.

Kate, I certainly do agree. I thought your last quote particularly apropos to the current state of American society.
I don't remember where I read it, but it's a very wise saying; "The majority is always wrong."

But my point was to show why Americans "expect nothing but deterioration before us?" despite advances in technology and the abundance of comfort.

I don't know if the majority is always wrong. It does give us some sticky moments, though.

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