Reanimating Cultural Confidence
Cultural confidence and its close ally, morality, define the character and, ultimately, the longevity of nations, whose average historical life is 245 years, which, ironically, is almost exactly America's age .
A 2017 Gallup poll that found 81 percent of Americans believe that our state of moral values is fair or poor. Social conservatives tend to believe we're in a moral decline, but this poll found that 71 percent of social liberals concur .
The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman Empires, and the Yuan and Ming Dynasties in the East, are perfect examples of once powerful regimes that incrementally succumbed to antagonistic influences that led to their demise. The precursor to their decline can be traced to internal cultural decay, the fraying of civic institutions, and the resulting decline in their societies' collective resilience.
That is the equivalent of suppressing our immune system, which makes a nation more susceptible to embracing apparently benign forms of amorality. In America in the 1960s, liberals began blurring our moral absolutes, and the culture followed suit, providing a license to breach the tacit rules that bound our nation since its inception. In turn, that led to nationwide fragmentation and an incremental lack of confidence in our public institutions, including our systems of justice, education, and public health, and in particular in certainty about the rule of law. These institutions and legal tenets, and a trustworthy government, constitute the framework that keeps civil society stable and functioning.
A July 2019 Pew Research Center report found that three quarters of Americans believed that trust in the federal government and their fellow citizens has been declining for the past several decades. With respect to the federal government, people said money has corrupted it and that corporations control the political process. Concerning the dwindling trust in their fellow citizens, they said people are more lazy, greedy, and dishonest. Moreover, by broad majorities, Americans believe that the federal government and the media withhold important information from them .
Not unlike many nations, ours was auspiciously founded. The second paragraph of The Federalist (1787) asserts that the then-current generation of Americans was charged with determining whether governments can be formed "through reflection and choice" or must "forever be formed through accident and force" . Our Founders and forebears decisively chose "reflection and choice," which places America in an exceptional position in the history of Western civilization. Tragically, today, this is at once forgotten and untaught in our public education system.
Historians have documented the trendlines of decline and have defined several stages. They begin with a rejection of God, then proceed to a fracturing of the traditional family, on to the degradation of human life (abortion and euthanasia), thence to base and immoral entertainment, on to violent crime, a declining middle class, and an insolvent government. The final stage is infighting and the kind of civic engagement that borders on barbarism, which abets the weakening of public institutions and cultural confidence .
It's clear that through our acquiescence to evil, we have willfully and ignorantly checked every box on this list. Although many on the left no longer believe in evil, not unlike gravity, it exists independent of human belief. We can blame politicians, but most of them are merely reflections of the moral and cultural contours of the nation.
In his 1998 book The Death of Outrage, former education secretary William Bennett wrote, "National prosperity is largely dependent on good private character. If lying, sloth, lack of discipline, and personal irresponsibility become commonplace, the national economy grinds down. The breaking up of families means more foster homes and lower high school graduation rates. Just as there are enormous financial benefits to moral health, there are enormous financial costs to moral collapse" .
Countless studies have demonstrated that the breakdown of the traditional family in the past sixty years is the cause of myriad downstream cultural problems, including single parenthood, poverty, increased incarceration rates, drug and addiction problems, and a higher incidence of suicide .
Rebuilding the family structure will require agreement that the traditional two-parent family, a man and a woman, is the best guarantor of a nation's stability, economic success, and cultural confidence. There is also an abundance of evidence that a strong faith, which includes weekly church attendance, provides children with the moral structure and guideposts to successfully navigate our increasingly corrosive cultural landscape. Yet millions of Americans obtusely fail to see the writing on the tombstone and continue whistling past it.
Therefore, we must begin with an unprecedented level of introspection among those who believe that moral relativism is the only absolute and who willfully refuse to acknowledge the cultural damage caused by an undisciplined, me-first morality. Reconstituting the virtues of sacrifice, delayed gratification, and self-reliance versus government dependence is paramount to strengthening the fabric of our nation. Only then can we begin to right our listing ship of state and rebuild our nation into what President Lincoln described as "the last, best hope of earth" .
Philip Mella writes on politics and history and has been published in The Wall Street Journal, American Thinker, and Townhall. He is former mayor pro tem of Woodland Park, Colorado and currently serves on the 4th Judicial Nominating Commission.
- The Fate of Empires, by Sir John Glubb, 1978.
- Views of U.S. Moral Values Slip to Seven-Year Lows, by Jim Norman, Gallup, May 22, 2017.
- Trust and Distrust in America, by Lee Ranie, Scott Keeter, and Andrew Perrin, Pew Research Center, July 22, 2019.
- Federalist Papers, General Introduction, by Alexander Hamilton, October 27, 1787.
- The Fate of Empires, by Sir John Glubb, 1978; Democracy and the Fall of the Athenian Republic, by Alexander Tyler, 1787.
- The Death of Outrage: Bill Clinton and the Assault on American Ideals, by William J. Bennet, September 1999.
- The Demise of the Happy Two-Parent Home, by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, August, 2020; Who Killed the American Family?: How the Breakdown of the Family is Impacting our Children, by Phyllis Schlafly, The Christian Post, September 23, 2014; What are the consequences of the breakdown of the traditional American family for American society?, Lawaspect.com. https://lawaspect.com/consequences-breakdown-traditional-family-american-society/
- Annual Message to Congress, by Abraham Lincoln, December 1, 1862.