I suppose each of us feels solid and indestructible, even though we know it isn’t true. There must be survival value in that feeling, something we see in Michelangelo’s David defiantly facing the giant Goliath, and certainly the Homeric legends are full of this feeling, no matter how many heroes die.
I suppose we feel that our social institutions are solid and indestructible as well. We can look at the ruins of Athenian pride at the Parthenon, and not see our own symbols of empire in similar ruins centuries hence. Denial is a kind of gift. So when some of us lament the impending demise of Western Civilization, what are we talking about?
My own sense of Western Civilization begins in 1543, with the publication of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium. The Copernican Revolution proved to mankind that the universe was knowable and understandable, and it gave powerful inspiration to future generations to know and to understand more. Many people were gleeful at the prospect. In 1776, the most popular new music in Western Civilization was written by a young fellow named Mozart, music which bubbles with laughter, optimism, and glee. Even his Requiem is a far cry from the gloom and doom of the Dark Ages.
The optimism that spread throughout European natural philosophy (science), literature, and the arts was followed closely by improvements in the living conditions of the common man, and populations grew, trade grew, and the middle-class rose from the forgotten antecedents of the past.
To me the peak of Western Civilization is represented by the figure of Nikola Tesla, who invented the polyphase alternating current generator. Here we have the crowning achievement in innovation, the culmination of three and a half centuries of thinking, discovery, and work. Tesla electrified mankind.
Where would we be without electricity? No lights, no motors. No running water, no sewage disposal. No refrigeration. No communications. Walk around the house and count the light switches, look at what’s plugged in; none of it will work without electricity. It’s no accident that the USAF targets power plants; the US military can drive a people into the Dark Ages in a matter of days. So can somebody with access to the power generating and distribution centers, in a matter of minutes.
Blackouts have afflicted many Americans temporarily, so there is some sensitivity about the technical safety, security, and dependability of our power generating and distribution system. I’m not so sure there is equal sensitivity about who controls this system: political government. When something goes wrong with the system, fingers are always pointed away from the controllers. We trust them. They are solid, indestructible, politicians and bureaucrats.
Political government has always failed its promise to provide security and justice. Political government has always destroyed the civilization it ruled. We live in denial of historical reality, and we believe this time-honored failure will somehow work for us. Next time the lights go out, think about the controllers.
Robert Klassen [send him mail] retired from a forty-year career in critical-care respiratory therapy. He is the author of five books, including Atlantis: A Novel about Economic Government, and Economic Government, which describe a solution to the problem of political government. Here’s his web site.