darkskywatcher (darkskywatcher) wrote,

Dark Ages Reborn?

But first, the news: apparently the Republicans are coming to St. Paul for their convention in '08. And the Democrats also have the Twin Cities on the short list. Looks like it's going to get interesting around here.

--Just got the call as I was writing this: I got the job! I now get to sit in a room in front of a bank of monitors overnight, after I spend some days getting trained and filling out paperwork. Joy. --

Now, the theory. Perhaps prompted by this news or some other related line of thought, I began to think about the Republican surge that has been very publically dominant in American public life since 1980. This thought led me to the dismay that many liberals have about the republican agenda. In some cases, this leads to neaar-hysteria, such as in the wake of the 2004 election, with the release of the Red and Blue map. It certainly seemed like Liberals were a minority in the country going mad. I think many liberals these days still believe that, and perhaps rightly so with the advance of certain Republican agendas at many different levels of government.

This for some reason today brought to mind the fate of the (Western) Roman empire, the final collapse of which led to an era still called the "Dark Ages" in popular culture. Near the end, Romans were almost helpless to prevent the movement of barbarian tribes through their borders, and in fact the core of the empire was heavily raided for decades before the empire finally fell. Romans saw the demise of their way of life everywhere they turned, with good Roman virtues and public works replaced by rude dwellings and unsophistication.

Although this parallel is obviously not perfect, I think it makes a certain amount of sense. Certainly, democrats have shown the tendency, like the Romans, to just throw up their hands and accept certain actions from their adversaries. Defeatism has been a serious problem, and may continue to be in the future. The republicans have also shown, from the liberal perspective, to be very barbaric indeed.

Accepting that parallel leads to an interesting place, with a more modern (and informed) view of the dark ages. Namely, the dark ages are no longer regarded as being particularily dark. Yes, their was a collapse of central political authority. Yes, many of the works of the Romans did disappear. On the other hand, the things the barbarians brought with them were also very important. For a political example, the barbarians had some very un-Roman ideas about personal liberty, ideas that would over time mature into the enlightenment, and which are still important to us today.

For another example, while Roman learning (which were primarily for the elite) did disappear, it was replaced with a monastic network which proved rather adept at maintaining and advancing scholarship in other areas. Monasteries were also protected and funded because of their religious status (this did cause many of them to become corrupt, admittedly), which allowed them to grow beyond meeting the needs of the eite alone. I might also point to a certain beauty of the illuminated manuscripts they produced.

What all of this means for the modern liberal is not to worry so much about the fate of the country even should the Democrats be doomed to electoral obsolescence. The works of the opposition may not be so terrible as we believe. They have already shown a superior ability to organize, and to motivate people at the grassroots level, and who knows what that could develop into? Like the Romans, we do not know what our opponent is or is not capable of because we only see them as acting within a world that is generally of our creation.

This is not so say that Liberals should roll over and let them have control, or that we need to play nice with all of them. I am still sickened and engaged about the damage the Bush adminisitration has done, and I think many of them deserve some nice prisons cells when they are out of office. The barbarian invasions, after all, did involve the barbarians killing a whole lot of people, which I'm sad to say has been repeated.

But we also need to take a step back and think that maybe we don't have all the answers. I'm not sure the world would have been better had the Roman empire survived. And I certainly don't think American Democracy will be stronger if we treat the Republican surge as just another case of barbarians at the gates.

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