So why are the governments of many countries worse than that of the United States? Because the United States has a history and retains a vestigial culture, albeit increasingly diluted and diminished, of individuality, independence, and public service as a burden to be accepted, only temporarily, for the common good. To us, the concept may seem rather naive, funny, and old-fashioned. It shouldn’t. Cincinnatus (519 – 438 B.C.), who returned to plow his fields in Rome when he had finished his job as supreme military commander, is fading as a role model and even a memory.
He gained fame as a model of Roman virtue. He was a farmer above all, but when called to serve his country he did so well, efficiently, and without question, even though a prolonged stay away from his farm could mean starvation for his family. When he served his country, he made his stint as dictator as brief as possible. He was also admired for his lack of ambition.
Much of that culture, although diminished in Rome, spread slowly to parts of what was then the wider world, including Britain. Centuries later, Britain gradually transitioned from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy, with many of the individual freedoms and restraints on government set forth in the United States Constitution. It took a very long time. Nor was it, as the French ruling class understood, automatic. M. Guillotine’s clever and comparatively humane device, celebrated as the people’s avenger, was much in use as the French Revolution proceeded. Far less humane “rebels” in Libya are hardly proving themselves historically unique by exacting their vengeance without much sensitivity.
But not to worry. There are easy solutions. Well, maybe.
In more recent years, Britain’s culture has become no less multiculturally devalued than that of the United States. Venezuela, Cuba, and many others never, at least in recent memory, enjoyed cultures conducive to freedom and democracy. Ditto many countries in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, plus some of the countries they colonized. Mexico? Hardly a role model for the United States; I didn’t learn much about Mexican history or culture half a century ago in school, and I doubt that many young people in Mexico learn much today about the history or culture of the United States. Few are likely to develop cultural attitudes in contemporary Mexico compatible with life in the United States.
Haiti was colonized by France and revolted to form a “republic” at about the time of the French Revolution. There was some stability under various dictators. More recently, there was a rebellion in 2004, then earthquakes and floods that made existence even worse. Will Haiti ever have democracy and freedom? In the foreseeable future, there seems to be no path to that destination, including some kind of well-intended conquest; some type of mobocracy, maybe, but not freedom.
History suggests that where the requisite seeds and fertile soil are lacking, germinating and growing responsible, responsive governments for a free people is almost impossible. Although President Obama is not the only leader in the United States more hopeful than knowledgeable about even recent history, as president he is more capable than most others of doing great harm.
Obama’s historical ignorance could be a full time beat for somebody who does this work for a living, and it tells us something truly important about Barack Obama. His ignorance is as broad as it is deep. Not that you couldn’t deduce that on your own from his performance on the job.
This lack of historical awareness, along with other disabilities, seems to have spawned a penchant for ignoring reality in such places as Libya while
neglecting to water the fragile plant on our own still fertile soil — and while using what remains of it to bring impoverished cultures and their consequences to the United States.