“History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity.” ~ Marcus Tullius Cicero (ca. 44 BC)
“The study of history is the best medicine for a sick mind; for in history you have a record of the infinite variety of human experience plainly set out for all to see; and in that record you can find yourself and your country both examples and warnings; fine things to take as models, base things rotten through and through, to avoid.” ~ Titus Livius (Livy, ca. 17 BC)
What do you think of when you think of history? Do you agree with the Roman consul Cicero’s statement or is the historian Livy’s definition more properly how you view the subject of history?
Are your memories of history classes nothing more that boring hours learning the dates of events, which seem disconnected in time and space, just to pass a test? Or do you see in history the ideals of previous generations which are germane and directly affecting the events occurring in your life today?
Give yourself a moment and really think about it: What is history?
Of course there is no "right" answer to the question and in fact no matter how you view history you are on pretty solid ground; unless, of course, you find it totally irrelevant to your life today.
Myself, I see history in a one-word definition: FAILURE. Not just failure but failure on two fronts which were properly elucidated by two 18th century giants, the historian Edward Gibbon and, of all people, the philosopher Georg W.F. Hegel.
Edward Gibbon in a most eloquent manner sees the subject of history as "…little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind"?
While Hegel being perfectly consistent with his philosophical ideals say: “What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.”
For a moment let us consider Gibbon’s profound statement.
How do we define a civilization? How do we measure the progression of a civilization?
Most can name the six greatest civilizations of antiquity: the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans. Each had a form of government and each government was established under the precepts revealed by Robert LeFevre who penned:
"The importance of understanding government lies in the importance of the security and protection which governments have been devised to provide. Thus, while men may believe that a government is important in itself; beneath this belief is the fact that government is a means to an end, not an end in itself."
Whatever else you think of each of these great empires you undoubtedly defined them by their wealth and the influence they exerted over others. Take the Romans for example. We would probably know little of them if this obscure group of people hadn’t become the huge crushing and dominating power of the ancient world.
What is it that we know best concerning the Romans rise to empire and their fall from such a lofty state if not the crimes, follies and misfortunes which they perpetrated upon themselves and those they conquered?
Don’t we measure the progress of the Romans’ rise to and fall from empire by their very moral and security failures? How then do we track this progression from an obscure backwater agricultural and minor trading center to empire if not through the dates of their wars, civil wars, and rulers, with their crimes of greed, murder, and lust for power? All of which are the very definition of failure by man and state resulting in a kingship, a republic, an empire then decaying into a dead culture, a dead language and finally remembered only for a bunch of dead emperors.
The history of the United States isn’t much different. The document that established a centralized federal system of government begins with the explicit promise of safety and security by establishing justice, insuring domestic tranquility, providing for the common defense, promoting the general welfare, and securing the blessings of liberty.
Is this the case or are we witness to another rash of "crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind"?
Consider that we started with the Revolutionary War; we then progress through the supposed — and highly touted — failure of the Articles of Confederation to a coup d’état resulting in a centralized state under the Constitution.
An early failure in our history is the War of 1812 in which we lost Washington DC resulting in the Capitol and White House being burned by the British. In the mean time the New England states — Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Vermont — which never were in favor of this war with Britain, became openly hostile toward the Federal government, even talking of secession from the newly formed republic during the Hartford Convention.
The stalemate of 1814 with the accompanying Treaty of Ghent did not hinder our claim of manifest destiny and so in 1846 we fought a two-year war with the state of Mexico which trained our future commanders for our greatest failure to date: The War Between the States.
The failure of a centralized government found its expression at the end of the War Between the States and lead to the subjugation of the Southern States under what is laughingly called Reconstruction and all the horrific crimes that it entails. Meanwhile, the now all-powerful sovereignty of the Federal system began growing and flexing its will under the euphemisms of western expansionism and the Indian wars.
The total enslavement or destruction of the western native peoples and the West firmly in tow, it was time to look further, thus with a little luck and a blatant lie an opportunity presented itself resulting in a nasty little war called the Spanish American War. A war in which the Spanish Empire was destroyed, Puerto Rico, and Guam, came under American influence as an indemnity payment while the Philippine Islands and its peoples were purchased for the sum of 20 million dollars.
It was because of a profound economic transformation known as the industrial revolution, which resulted in the introduction of new technologies that America was able to fight the Spanish American war and at the same time (1898) embark on a subsequent failure: The Boxer Rebellion.
As wars go this wasn’t much of a war but it resulted in lives lost on all sides. At the end of the rebellion China was left in debt to the tune 333 million dollars and a subject nation to the British, French, Russians, Americans, Germans, and Japanese.
Thus began the 20th century which resulted in the following failures; The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 which effectively established what can only be referred to as the Shadow Government or the American Oligarchy. This was followed, in 1913, by the 16th Amendment giving birth to our income tax and the modern IRS.
In 1917 the foundation was laid to move our Constitutional Republic to a Constitutional dictatorship. Woodrow Wilson was our President and America was just about to become involved in the war raging in Europe. On October 6, 1917 Congress passed the Trading with the Enemy Act, which has as its stated purpose:
"An Act to define, regulate, and punish trading with the enemy, and for other purposes."
This was quickly followed by America’s involvement in World War I and President Wilson’s religious zeal for making the world safe for Democracy. Thankfully, this self-aggrandizing plan for a world dominated by Wilson’s democratic principles via his League of Nations failed.
The depression of 1929 arguably gave rise to America’s second truly socialist President, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Who, upon taking office, asked Congress to amend the October 6th 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act. His request was promptly granted in the following manner:
1st Congress made the amendments to the 1917 act retroactive to March 4th, 1933 to cover any thing FDR may have declared prior to Congress meeting on March 9th, 1933.
2nd The distinction between enemies of the United States and the citizens of United States was changed so that "We the People," were included in the definition of the enemy, and were to be treated no differently. All distinctions between the two groups were totally voided and every man, woman and child was made an enemy of their government.
3rd The Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917 was amended to read "during times of war or during any other national emergency declared by the President…." Thus the war powers not only included a period of war, but also a period of "national emergency" as defined by the President of the United States.
The US had now crossed its Rubicon and entered WWII not as the Constitutional Republic, as envisioned by the founding fathers, but rather as the full blown constitutional dictatorship, which had been the greatest fear of the Anti-Federalists 146 years earlier.
If American history is beginning to sound like an ancient third-rate tragedy written by a drunken Roman playwright, hang-on, because it is about to take a turn toward a macabre comedy.
In a fit of insanity unequaled since Caligula threaten to make his horse a Roman senator, the American state, under the altruistic guise of the lend lease program and later the Marshall plan, decided to plunder the America worker for the purpose of "helping" weaker nations financially and with military protection. We know this on-going theft as foreign aid.
The results of such dementia were immediate and obvious. Robert LeFevre explains.
"Weaker states have, from time immemorial, been compelled to pay tribute to stronger and more vigorous neighbors. The innovation…was that the United States of America, the then strongest and most vigorous nation in the world, began to pay tribute from a position of strength. And this was the great advance towards barbarism; made exclusively by American politicians…The claim was made that this would win us friends. The most simple and least informed psychologist could have revealed that this practice would only win us the contempt and hostility of others."
Not only has the policy of foreign aid not made us safe, it has kept us on a continuous war footing which began with WWII. Again the America taxpayer was saddled not with just the debt of two world wars, along with the foreign aid program, but now the cold war would mean the defense of Europe was the responsibility of the America’s middle class.
This protracted war footing would require more than just money; it would also require the children of the middle class.
For the next 40 plus years the Cold War was to be in constant flux between a shooting and a non-shooting war.
The Korean War, of the early 50’s, was the first symptom of this failed policy and was further exacerbated by the war in Vietnam and the United States’ policy of containing the Soviet Union.
The so called Cold War finally came to end in 1991 with the monetary collapse of the Soviet Union leaving the United States the sole remaining world power but the damage had been done.
Alan W. Bock elucidates:
"It turns out — as pointed out by Independent Institute senior fellow Ivan Eland prior to 9/11 and based on Department of Defense studies — that the presence of heavy concentrations of U.S. troops, positions, or activity in some part of the world is closely correlated with increased terrorist activity. It’s hardly a surprise. The presence of a foreign power, even a perfectly benevolent one, will breed local resentment. The Defense Department knows this — they studied it first to put numbers and values on a phenomenon they knew intuitively was present."
The events of the Cold War have not lead us inexplicably to the new boogieman, the war on terror, the invasion of Iraq and the much hated PATRIOT Act.
Robert LeFevre once again tells us why.
"…(S)ince government is always an agency which plans to use and, indeed, must use force, we have noted that government derives its power from a compulsory unification. All persons under the jurisdiction of a particular government are compelled to agree with whatever that government does. The agreement can be enthusiastic, tacit, or reluctant. But the agreement must be there. Government’s power to protect is based upon that agreement, however secured. Power, to be effective, cannot permit exceptions."
Thus, we have in the war on terror, nothing more than a continuation of the state’s attempt at compulsory unification on an international scale, while within its own borders the state hopes to achieve the same results with the PATRIOT Act. The target is always the same no matter where the power of the state is exerted; it is the individual who does not comply fully with the herd mentality who stands in the crosshairs. Individualism with its offspring of liberty and the pursuit of property will not be tolerated no matter the monetary cost or the cost in human lives.
What is history? It is always the same no matter the era, no matter the culture. It is the record of the failure which begins as a promise: a promise of safety and security.
Tim Case [send him mail] is a 30-year student of the ancient histories who agrees with the first-century stoic Epictetus on this one point: u201COnly the educated are free.u201D