Let’s see: the Supreme Court has determined that the cops can’t just barge into my bedroom, catch me in the midst of an infamous act, and drag me and my, uh, partner, off to jail. Whew! What a relief! But they can still barge into my office, arrest me as an infamous “enemy combatant,” and throw away the key in the name of fighting “terrorism.” So very pagan: no pleasure is proscribed, but politics can be dangerous.
As the California summer swings into full gear, and the light from the Bay rises up, coating the city with an effervescent glaze, the question raises itself: why not just escape into private life, and leave the world to its folly? It would be so easy to surrender completely to the pagan ethic and lose oneself in the world of the senses. A life lived for its own sake is, after all, the libertarian ideal.
Roman slaves had a great deal of what, today, we would call freedom; they were free to fornicate, to indulge in every sort of vice, to bring children into the world without benefit of marriage, all the better to serve the tastes of their masters, which, by the time of the Imperial era, had become quite decadent. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but by the time the stern republican virtues of yeoman farmers gave way to the Rome of Petronius, the muscular young republic had long since morphed into a monstrously bloated and misshapen empire. As to which is cause, and which effect, I’ll leave it to the sociologists to decide. Suffice to note the connection, and wonder what it portends.
Speaking of decadence, is it just a coincidence that the same news channel that is the most belligerently pro-war and pro-Bush is the same network that broadcasts the sleaziest entertainment? The War Party is hoping that we’re all too preoccupied with living out our personal Satyricons to notice what’s happening in the world and on the home front.
For all their moral posturing, the neoconservative faction of the War Party is better served by hedonism. The more people tune out, and turn to purely personal affairs, the more the neocons can lie about nonexistent “weapons of mass destruction” and get away with it. Americans are just not paying attention: large numbers believe the Iraqis used WMDs during the recent war, a number roughly equivalent to those who fail to distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.
The link between personal morality and the life and health of the American republic is subtle, yet unmistakable. As the neo-pagan ethic takes hold in the cultural arena, a neo-imperial policy is proclaimed by an American President. The Roman pattern is being repeated. The Bush Doctrine of preemption, as capricious and brimming with hubris as Caligula’s edict proclaiming himself a god, is the sort of outrage that simply would not have been possible in an earlier, and better world. Nor would the depredations of the Patriot Act and its successor.
For whatever reason, most people just don’t have a whole lot of time to focus on larger concerns. I certainly don’t blame them and don’t mean to hector anyone, because this just reflects the natural and healthy “isolationism” of the American people and people the world over that is the chief emotional resistance to interventionism. In any case, some degree of indifference to the affairs of the world, and its quarrels, is to be encouraged in a nation as powerful and, in the wrong hands, as potentially dangerous as the U.S. But ignorance of what is going on the world is a luxury Americans can no longer afford, especially those of us who resist mightily the degeneration of our beloved republic into just another vulgar empire.
Curing the plague of ignorance that’s fallen over the land, that’s what Antiwar.com is all about. We’re the equivalent of the Emergency Room in the great Hospital of Peace, where those traumatized by a barrage of militarist propaganda come for treatment of their injuries and a good shot of the untrammeled truth. The lies of the War Party are many, and they come flying at us without respite, it seems: it’s a full time job keeping up with them. Like computer viruses, or spam, they keep recurring in new forms, using all sorts of clever strategies to evade and subvert our defenses. Our job, here at Antiwar.com, is never-ending. So I can’t really afford to be “exuberantly pagan,” as David Frum described me in his piece naming me as one of at least a dozen spokes on the Axis of Evil. There just isn’t time. While all those California sybarites are out there basking in the sun, the surf, and the polymorphous perversity, I’m stuck inside writing. Hmmmm ..
A benevolent lightheartedness, an admirable and quintessentially American trait, is the emotional leitmotif of our civilization, and, as a wannabe sybarite, I can think of no other cause that I would rather spend long summer afternoons defending. For that heedlessness is the innocence of a country that has never been invaded, in modern times, has never experienced a coup d’etat, and has yet to fall beneath the hand of a dictator, that is if you’re not counting Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
As a would-be exuberant pagan, I like to think that I’m defending the right of Americans to be gloriously unburdened by the woes of the world, carefree citizens of a free and prosperous commonwealth. It is a vision of the future that keeps me going: I am reminded of one of my favorite Ayn Rand quotes:
It isn’t easy carrying the banner of unreconstructed “isolationism,” the contemporary smear-word for the foreign policy of the Founders, in the age of empire. We couldn’t do it without the tremendous support of Antiwar.com’s readers especially those who responded to our week-long summer pledge program with overwhelming generosity. As of the latest count, we’ve raised a grand total of $18,800.
“Thank you” doesn’t quite communicate the overwhelming feeling of validation, nor could any words express the depth of my gratitude. Yes, words, for once, fail me. I can only say that we will work hard to be worthy of your continued support.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I have always been a big fan of our monthly Sustainers program because it is the only way, really, to avoid scheduling these terribly obtrusive pledge drives. With some regular source of income, we won’t be forced to go into panic mode, periodically making frantic appeals to our readers threatening all sorts of dire consequences if Antiwar.com doesn’t get an immediate infusion of funds. Spread out over monthly installments, and fully tax-deductible, your Sustainers pledge is the bedrock on which Antiwar.com is built. So, if you’ve made a one-time contribution, then please consider becoming a Sustainer at whatever level you can afford. Go here to check it out.
And welcome to Anthony Gancarski, our newest columnist: he has written for The American Conservative, Counterpunch, LewRockwell.com, and Folio Weekly, among others, and hes good. Check out his first column for Antiwar.com, here.