For Those Awaiting the American Renewal, a Thought
I recently began reading Joseph Campbell's brilliant 1949 book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, and the following passage struck me as particularly relevant to current calls for renewal, in light of the general rejection of our ideas and values by Americans on November 6th.
As Professor Arnold J. Toynbee indicates in his six-volume study of the laws of the rise and disintegration of civilizations, schism in the soul, schism in the body social, will not be resolved by any scheme of return to the good old days (archaism), or by programs guaranteed to render an ideal projected future (futurism), or even by the most realistic, hardheaded work to weld together again the deteriorating elements. Only birth can conquer death—the birth, not of the old thing again, but of something new. Within the soul, within the body social, there must be—if we are to experience long survival —a continuous "recurrence of birth"(palingenesia) to nullify the unremitting recurrences of death. For it is by means of our own victories, if we are not regenerated, that the work of Nemesis is wrought: doom breaks from the shell of our very virtue. Peace then is a snare; war is a snare; change is a snare; permanence a snare. When our day is come for the victory of death, death closes in; there is nothing we can do, except be crucified—and resurrected; dismembered totally, and then reborn.
I am also put in mind of I, Claudius, the constant invocation of and mourning for the Old Republic, and how Octavian wrapped himself in the cloak of restoration while cementing his power as the tyrant Caesar Augustus. The Republic was gone; it had vanished from the hearts of the elites and the masses both. It had no natural existence anymore beyond a kind of bitter nostalgia for something long unlived.
I think Campbell, invoking Toynbee, is right: what is gone is always gone, and we can only hope for something new. In Hayekian terms, social order is always emergent and unplanned, and what follows the progressive destruction of the old constitutional order will happen of its own accord and in ways we could never imagine, through the aggregation of millions of individual actions. All deliberate plans for renewal will come to naught, will be a snare, as Campbell says.
I have long feared that Ronald Reagan was Marcus Aurelius, a good leader in a bad state, able to cultivate a moment of serenity, but not ultimately change the course of the vast Empire he led. Events seem to have proved me correct.
Discuss among yourselves.