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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Monday, October 06, 2008

darkness ahead

Where have I been, you ask?

Well, Kimmie and I have been working our way through a headcold, caught we know not where. I got it first, and probably passed it on to her. I'm very much better, but Kimmie is going through the middle of hers. Indeed, she's decided to take today off work.

I've been chipping away at my mighty work, and at the ideas surrounding and supporting it. This is a huge task, and one that I don't think I can really discuss in this blog, since I don't want to go too deeply into my own views of the meanings of my still unfinished work.

Then I'm feeling a certain blog-fatigue, as I did a couple of years ago. This blog, begun as a kind of lark or experiment back in 2005, has become a kind of commitment. I've often told myself that even if not many people read it, it can still serve as a personal record--a kind of diary of my own thoughts, if not of my life exactly, during this time of creation.

Then there's the world falling about our ears: a worldwide financial meltdown and the wintry prospects beyond. It feels almost irresponsible not to address these grave and urgent matters--but what do I know about them? I suspect that even those in the know don't really know much about what's going on. As I write these words, the U.S. House of Representatives is still grappling with the $700- (or is it $800-) billion bailout bill for Wall Street. This is almost certainly a further waste of money--a mere playing for time in order to keep things from collapsing before the federal election. The legislation, at least as it exists till now, includes these words in its Section 8:

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

Is it constitutional to put decisions and individuals beyond the reach of law? That I don't know, but the fact that the framers of the bill are trying it tells me that we've got something that looks much like what happened at times of crisis in ancient Rome. It was the Romans who invented the office of the dictator: a person who could be invested with supreme command over the state and the army and who could rule by decree for a fixed period of exactly six months.

In Rome the dictatorship was a perfectly constitutional office that had its own defined limits. One could be appointed in times of grave stress or threat to the Republic, and he would lapse back to ordinary citizenship again when he had done his task and restored normalcy to the polity.

The U.S. of course has no such provision in its constitution. The ever-increasing tendency to place persons in authority beyond the reach of law or oversight is a sign of creeping tyranny, and the prospect of an unconstitutional dictatorship draws ever closer. Section 8 of this bill gives certain people great power while removing any accountability from them. It's a very bad sign when a preoccupation of the regime is how to escape prosecution for its actions.

Arnold J. Toynbee, in his A Study of History, describes how every society goes through the transition from being guided by leaders--people who inspire others to follow them on the basis of their vision and personal qualities--to being dominated by rulers--those who have inherited the levers of power, but who lack the charisma of actual leaders. In the U.S., we've had the transition from leaders such as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who stirred and inspired their fellow citizens, to rulers such as George W. Bush and Richard Cheney, who have been preoccupied with world domination and shaping their own country into something closer to a police state.

As I've mentioned before, Toynbee also discusses the threefold progress of a typical Greek tragedy as it applies to the catastrophic undoing of such a ruling regime. Those three stages are koros, hubris, and ate. He translates these as "surfeit", "outrageous behavior", and "disaster". I believe we've seen plenty of the first two of these; now the third is looming into view.

The U.S. has the largest military in the world. They may feel they need it if large segments of its population, thrown out of their houses and their jobs, their retirements savings wiped out, become agitated. Voila: full-on military dictatorship.

Preposterous? Maybe. But maybe that's what they thought in Burma too. And I expect that real estate is still very affordable there.


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