by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Victor Davis Hanson‘s latest column at National Review Online attempts to answer the question: Why do “once-successful societies ossify and decline”? The answer will not thrill anyone who’s been monitoring recent American history closely.
One recurring theme seems consistent in Athenian literature on the eve of the city’s takeover by Macedon: social squabbling over slicing up a shrinking pie. Athenian speeches from that era make frequent reference to lawsuits over property and inheritance, evading taxes, and fudging eligibility for the dole. After the end of the Roman Republic, reactionary Latin literature — from the likes of Juvenal, Petronius, Suetonius, and Tacitus — pointed to “bread and circuses,” as well as excessive wealth, corruption, and top-heavy government.
For Gibbon and later French scholars, “Byzantine” became a pejorative description of a top-heavy Greek bureaucracy that could not tax enough vanishing producers to sustain a growing number of bureaucrats. In antiquity, inflating the currency by turning out cheap bronze coins was often the favored way to pay off public debts, while the law became fluid to address popular demands rather than to protect time-honored justice. …
… The gradual decline of a society is often a self-induced process of trying to meet ever-expanding appetites rather than a physical inability to produce past levels of food and fuel or to maintain adequate defense. Americans have never had safer workplaces or more sophisticated medical care — and never have so many been on disability.