Civilization requires sacrifice and hard choices. Western civilization, the civilization of free people requires choices that are harder yet, choices that we are now unwilling to make.
Civilization is built on boundaries. Boundaries between good and evil, my tribe and your tribe, holy and profane, normal and deviant. The Torah, in Genesis 16:12, provides us with a counter-example to civilization when it quotes Isaac with respect to his son boundary-less Esau: “And he will be a wild man, his hand will be against every man and every man’s against him”. George Washington, the crowning achievement of Western civilization, was the anti-Esau; he warned against foreign entanglements for the fledgling United States, a warning that was not heeded to the great detriment of the country he had founded.
Civilization is a fragile thing precisely because it depends on boundaries and boundaries are a burden, a burden we must willingly accept. There was a time, perhaps in the time of Esau, when living without civilization, outside of civilization was possible. Not easy, but possible. If you were skilled like he was in living off the land, you could do it. Today, when the population of the planet has as many billions as then it had millions, this is no longer possible. Life without civilization is death; an uncivilized world is a world of massive famine, war, and finally the extinction for our species.
This is why throughout history and until quite recently civilization had guardians. They were rather unsavory characters these guardians; nuns who liked to rap knuckles and bearded rabbis whose default was always to say no and stern-faced elders who could kill with a single glance from under their bushy eyebrows. They were sinners like all of us, if not more. They abused the power we gave them. They were often cruel and not only to be kind, but they kept our basest instincts in check, they guarded the boundaries, and they kept civilization alive.
So we got rid of them. We replaced people with lifetimes of wisdom and an unshakable set of beliefs grounded in morality with 20 and 30 somethings with inflated egos who have never read a book and who know nothing of human history, but who have an unshakable belief that their current morality du jour is how things should have always been and should always be from now on. These Silicone Valley cubicle dwellers are civilization’s Kryptonite. They are busy, so very busy, destroying every boundary that mattered and erecting protective walls around everything that is unholy and dangerous.
We, in the West, are living out the last days of a great civilization; one that started 2,500 years ago in ancient Greece and when coupled with the moral compass simultaneously developed in the Judean hilltops created the world we live in today. The boundaries that kept us safe are nearly all gone now. No depravity is considered out of bounds and even suggesting that bounds exist is now illegal. There is but a single last boundary, the last bastion of freedom that has not yet fallen, but it soon will. This last line of defense, this last redoubt, is the distinction between public and private, especially when it comes to property.
The res publica, the “public thing”, the Romans used to call it when they got together to deal with affairs of state. One can almost hear the disdain in that expression, the expression that gave us our word for republic. They would much rather deal with their own private affairs, the ancient Romans, than deal with this public thing and who can blame them. But armies had to be raised and paid for and public works had to be constructed, so they gathered in places like the senate and dealt with it, simply because they had to as free citizens. Whatever funds they decided to give to the public thing was all the public thing could use, There was no “printing money”, no deficit spending. The public thing was a servant of the private thing; it lived only because private citizens gave it life.
The boundary between the public and the private infuses the Jewish and Christian teachings. The effacement of it is at the root of much of the evil we see all around us today; the driving force behind our civilization’s demise. Jewish and Christian teachings, in different ways, teach us to be kind and compassionate in our private lives. We are commanded to, as private citizens, show compassion to the other, avoid excessive judgment less we come under a similar scrutiny. No such commandments or even suggestions exist for the public thing. As a group, we are commanded to lay waste to our enemies, to be both ruthless and judgmental. The Israelites were commanded to conquer Canaan and lay waste to its cities while avoiding any co-mingling with the “unclean” Canaanites. Nineteenth century Americans applied this model of conquest to the native inhabitants of North America using the same logic.
Judges, Caesars, do not act as private citizens and the commandments that apply to private citizens do not apply to them. They not only can, they must sit in judgment of others, regardless of their own personal and often considerable sins and shortcomings. Without such judgment, without these representatives acting on our communal behalf, there can be no law and order, no civilization. It is deeply un-Jewish, even on a personal level, to “turn the other cheek” and I suspect that it wasn’t that popular in actual practice in Christendom either. All I know is that I wouldn’t think it a good idea to strike a medieval knight or someone like George Washington across the face expecting them to offer the other side. In fact, it could be rather suicidal to do so. But setting this aside, there is certainly no commandment for Christian polities to offer the other cheek in the face of aggression, not even as a high ideal to aspire to. Public policy is Caesar’s and Caesar acts as a public servant, not a private citizen.
The modern conflation by people like “mayor” Pete Buttigieg of private and public behaviors is at the basis of the so-called “social justice” movement. “It is what Jesus would have wanted,” they shriek. No, it most certainly is not. People like California’s Gavin Newsom and New York’s Bill de Blasio have run out of all the public money that they could possibly get their hands on via taxation and reckless borrowing and used it to wreck their economies, so now they need more, much more to buy a few more years at the power trough. And where is that money to be found? In private hands, of course. Plenty of it, as Mr. Newsom has recently remarked. All that is needed is to steal it by passing laws that erase the boundary, the last one still barely standing, between private and public money.
So here is the simple and irrefutable bottom line, one that I certainly can lay no claim to being the first to articulate, but is worth repeating nonetheless. Western civilization committed suicide when it switched from a system that balanced the power of the elites with the power of a minority group of citizens who were sufficiently educated to know their interests and who had skin in the game to a system that gives unfettered power to all residents regardless of anything but age. This mob is guaranteed to do one thing and one thing only: give power to those who most credibly promise to raid the private property of citizens who own it, as long as they are promised some scraps from the feast.
But wait, there is more. Not satisfied with leaving for itself the slightest chance of survival, the West removed the one safeguard that it had against the ravages of the insatiable and ignorant mob, which it had so recklessly put in charge of its affairs: the finality of money. Throughout human history and until only a few decades ago, it was understood that the supply of money had to be finite because it represented something else that’s finite: the resources of Planet Earth. Items that are easy to carry and yet rare, such as precious metals and stones were used as symbols for these limited resources out of convenience, as later was paper money issued by entities that could back its value with gold or other valuables. This finality of the money supply was highly intuitive to the most ignorant of humans and it put a note of caution in their thinking. It made it self-evident to them that while resources could be divided more equally, the result was more likely that everyone would live like a pauper than everyone living like a king. And while everyone wants to live like a king, few want to live like paupers. With that in mind, perhaps its best to leave the king alone and try to get ahead by hard work and sacrifice rather than by believing sleazy lying politicians.
That lesson, this unassailable logic, were, alas, lost when governments left the gold standard and started making money by the trillions from nothing but microamps of electrical current flowing through semiconducting substrates. If some guy or gal at the Fed can make a trillion dollars by hitting the enter key, why not ten trillion? Or a hundred? It turns out we were lied to all these centuries and millennia. Everyone CAN live like a king! It’s just that these bastards who own the enter key access don’t want us to! Well, screw them. Let’s vote for Bernie or Biden or $1,000/month Yang, or any of the others, who cares, as long as our votes can get them to that enter key and then, then, we will finally all live like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg.