Many reasons have been given for the fall of the Roman Empire—greed and decadence, Christianity or the want of it, a decline in industriousness, lack of new territory to plunder, internal wars and over-reliance on the military and so forth. These are “civic virtue” arguments. More objectively, Tainter says the total cost of maintaining the empire exceeded the total return from the empire. The notion appears to confuse cause and effect if you squint and look at it just so. An automobile will eventually cost more in maintenance than the worth of its service justifies, but the deterioration itself isn’t due to the cost of maintenance. An asset has a trajectory apart from our mitigations of its effects.
The ancient Greeks understood it this way. They regarded time as malevolent, a destroyer of assets through its various agencies, corrosion and decay in the short term, say, floods and earthquakes in the long term. Their gods were gods because they were immortal, not vice versa, there was little else to recommend them in fact. Everything and everyone else had a beginning and an end.
We, thousands of years later, in a spasm of unwarranted optimism, embraced the notion of progress. We’re told time is on our side, that it enables bettering the human condition with methodical improvements. When such tinkering goes awry, eugenics in Germany for example, we’re expected to condemn it as a misapplication of an otherwise sound principle. Aside from disowned missteps, the general notion of “directed evolution”—an oxymoron if there ever was one—expands relentlessly, from genetically modified foods to green energy and the like.
It’s enough to know Progressivism is Hamiltonian to condemn it outright. They claim omnipotent government—or more precisely, regulatory power wielded by alleged “independent experts”—must be and cannot be other than just, efficient and incorruptable. There is no ideology they say, it’s all fact-based and even-handed. We recognize this immediately as the Philosopher Kings of Plato’s Republic, not rule by divine right but by right of alleged superior intellect. They say they’re deserving of unconditional enablement by reason of noble purpose and unbiased methodology. This is why Progressives consider dissent to be mere ignorance or malice. This is why undoing even their more egregious outrages is “turning back the clock”. This is what Forward! means to a Progressive.
Progressives would have us believe they’re “fighting for reform”. Everything is reform. Injustice where nobody else would think of it is reform. The income tax and Affirmative Action are reform. Outright subjugation is also reform. Prohibitions are reform. Obamacare is reform writ large and radical environmentalism is reform writ even larger. We’ve had over a century of reform. What’s been lost is easily more valuable than what’s been gained. It was Progressives who reformed our money—by stealing it—and forced the Federal Reserve on us. It was Progressives who took the, formerly our, schools and reformed them into the precrime penal system it is today.
Progressives tell us history has sides, history meaning the future of course, and theirs is the “winning” side, no surprise. Said differently, resistance is futile. That’s it. That’s their argument.
The smallest minority is the individual, just as Ayn Rand said. Progressivism and individual rights are clearly incompatible, they don’t claim otherwise. People who have Big Plans for other people have already violated them by way of intent. We can’t know what the last century or so would have been otherwise, but we do know what Progressivism has revealed itself to be: hostile to personal life. They’re not merely wrong but corrosion and decay personified. The Greeks were right: time isn’t on our side and it never has been. Entropy tells us as much. Whether we join Rome as a subject for learned autopsy depends on how much more time we waste entertaining their ideas.