(Denver Post, Jan. 1) “Let us eat and drink,” said the beautiful people at last night’s glittering parties, “for tomorrow we shall die.” Maybe they thought their insouciance fitting as 2011 ticked away, but they could not have thought it original. It was Obama’s favorite economist, John Maynard Keynes, the original Mr. Stimulus, who remarked coldly in the 1930s that in the long run we’re all dead. And Keynes was echoing the dissipated elites of ancient Israel 2700 years ago, says the prophet Isaiah. Fatalistic irresponsibility endures though nations rise and fall. Our fall may now impend, as 69 percent of those polled believe America is in decline and 57 percent expect our kids will live less well than we do. Yet you saw little evidence of that somber outlook in the prosperous holiday bustle at suburban malls and downtown theaters. A psychologist might call it cognitive dissonance. I’d call it either rank denial or good old American gumption. But which?
On this first day of a fateful election year the choice is entirely ours – and I choose gumption. Notwithstanding our fiscal and economic woes, political polarization, slumping demographics, nukes in Iran and North Korea, global jihad and sharia, the USA has the potential to come roaring back in 2012 and onward to 2020. It starts with deciding we can.
True, historians warn that great nations seldom make it to age 250, and we’re now 235. “Pessimism, materialism, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state, the weakening of religion, the love of money, and the loss of a sense of duty,” Sir John Glubb’s checklist for a country in decadence (from his 1976 book “The Fate of Empires”), fits us all too well. Our advantage, though, is that there has never been an America before.
Are we exempt from the undertow of history and the underside of human nature? Absolutely not. We do possess, however, resilient free institutions and an indomitable fighting spirit. From this fortunate combination – representing for our generation a trust to keep, not a charm to boast on or coast on – a victory for the United States over decadence and decline, against the odds, remains possible.
I’m no Pollyanna. Our state and nation are ill-led by Democrats and Republicans alike. Judges flout the Constitution, producing tyrannous rulings like Colorado’s Lobato school case, and making it unlikely the Supreme Court will annul the disaster that is Obamacare. The spiritual poverty in today’s public square would appall the pioneers who put “Nil Sine Numine,” nothing without the Spirit, on our state seal. We face a stormy year.
But like many Christian and Jewish conservatives, I enter 2012 with a survival kit of ideas and ideals that keep me buoyant, storms or not. Here on the shelf by my desk are wisdom-books giving timeless encouragement in the toughest times. Enemy attack, economic crash, electoral defeat? I hope and pray not. Still in such volumes as these, there is sustenance to persist regardless.
Of course my list of ten titles, compiled years ago for a friend, won’t match yours. But I do recommend compiling your own. It will ground you on bedrock and make 2012 go better. And what are the books on my shelf?
First is the Bible, alongside Chesterton’s “Everlasting Man” and Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” for an anchor in eternity. Next, “The Federalist” for politics and Bastiat’s “The Law” plus Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” for economics. Weaver’s “Ideas Have Consequences” and Goldwater’s “Conscience of a Conservative” diagnose America’s travails since 1945.
From literature, though a hundred come to mind, I complete my ten with Bolt’s “Man for All Seasons” and Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings,” epitomizing moral integrity. We’ll need a lot of that, and divine help besides, as beleaguered America turns the calendar page. Happy New Year.