“ALFRED NOBEL, the manufacturer of explosives, was talking to his friend the Baroness Bertha von Suttner, author of ‘Lay Down Your Arms.’ Von Suttner, a founder of the European antiwar movement, had just attended the fourth World's Peace Conference in Bern. It was August 1892.
‘Perhaps my factories will put an end to war even sooner than your congresses,’ Alfred Nobel said. ‘On the day when two army corps may mutually annihilate each other in a second, probably all civilized nations will recoil with horror and disband their troops.’
“STEFAN ZWEIG, a young writer from Vienna, sat in the audience at a movie theater in Tours, France, watching a newsreel. It was spring 1914.
An image of Wilhelm II, the Emperor of Germany, came on screen for a moment. At once the theater was in an uproar. ‘Everybody yelled and whistled, men, women, and children, as if they had been personally insulted,’ Zweig wrote. ‘The good-natured people of Tours, who knew no more about the world and politics than what they had read in their newspapers, had gone mad for an instant.’
Zweig was frightened. ‘It had only been a second, but one that showed me how easily people anywhere could be aroused in a time of a crisis, despite all attempts at understanding.’”
—from the opening page of Nicholson Baker’s "Human Smoke"
Unless I am mistaken and have gone completely mad (not an impossibility whatsoever), the American people seem prone to losing their collective minds heading into the crisis of the 2024 presidential election.
Put simply, American democracy keeps killing the thing it theoretically loves – individual liberty – yet American democracy does not die.
Indeed, against all odds, American democracy persists, driven by an insatiable appetite for collective power that is, regrettably, leading us down a path of increasing incivility. It's as though we're caught in the throes of a great and bloody unraveling of our societal fabric.
I, for one, harbor a profound mistrust of the frenzied masses, particularly when they invoke the banner of democracy. The democratic mob tends to reduce liberty to a mere façade, concealing its true desire for power, sometimes even wielding the authority to extinguish individual liberty if it deems it necessary. This herd mentality has the unsettling effect of convincing the populace that their liberty is a creation of the collective and the political process, rather than an inherent birthright of each individual prior to the existence of government.
Democracy extends power to the masses, but it often leads the people to prioritize the pursuit of power over the safeguarding of their own liberty. With victory their ultimate objective, civility is relegated to the backseat, making way for conformity, virtue signaling, and emotionally charged appeals to tribalism and pride.
Indeed, if the United States’ body politic continues fostering contempt and resentment with a sense of perpetual crisis, pitting right hand against left, it will eventually stab itself through the heart with daggers etched in the nation’s founding principles – “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” – shedding tears of blood from sullied steel.
I fervently hope that such a day never comes to pass, but our only hope of averting national self-destruction lies in our ability to maintain civility and clarity of thought amidst a tempestuous sea of troubles. Being civilized is not synonymous with mere politeness or etiquette; freedom, after all, does not always manifest itself as "nice."
No, to be civilized is to recognize fundamental principles that transcend the boundaries of nation, party, kin, or tribe. True civilization acknowledges that order and virtue cannot thrive without the foundation of individual liberty. To preserve human dignity and provide a counterbalance when the unbridled pursuit of power threatens to obliterate it, liberty, order, and virtue must coexist in a dynamic tension.
The restoration of God-given individual liberty is the crucial step the United States of America must take if we are to avoid a fate akin to Dorian Gray's self-inflicted doom.
However, this restoration must run counter to the prevailing herd mentality and our relentless march towards an ever-expanding democracy in the name of "bigger and better."
Can the United States remain sufficiently civilized to avert its own self-fulfilling demise?
The answer lies in our ability to establish a foundation that transcends the limitations of human construction. We must recognize that salvation will not come from the realm of politics, not even from the realm of democracy itself.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to [email protected].
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