past statesmanship

Fellow Hillsdale alum Devin Foley, now President of the informative and amusing Intellectual Takeout, posted a picture on the interwebs with the apt caption “Rome is burning.” The photo and Devin’s comment brought to mind a selection from Russell Kirk’s essay “Civilization without Religion.”

“It was at York that the dying Septimius Severus, after his last campaign (against the Scots), was asked by his brutal sons, Geta and Caracalla, ‘Father, when you are gone, how shall we govern the empire?’ The hard old emperor had his laconic reply ready: ‘Pay the soldiers. The rest do not matter.’ There would come a time when the soldiers could not be paid, and then civilization would fall to pieces.”

As I write on Friday afternoon, a shutdown of the federal government looms due to an impasse on a new budget. Unfortunately the dominant narrative seems to place responsibility for the impending shutdown squarely at the feet of Republicans, who are bold enough to at least start a serious conversation about reducing government spending. Apparently today’s measure of statesmanship is neither honesty nor courage, but rather the extent to which an elected official can secure the largest trough possible for his constituents.

I suspect most Americans won’t notice (at least not immediately) the effects of a federal government shutdown. That’s telling. Though as one measure of how small I think our government ought to be, I argue that at its ideal size it could shut down for weeks without so much as a hiccup in the social order. Unfortunately, as our military is strewn across the globe advancing what our leaders assure us are our “interests,” our soldiers will feel the impact of a shutdown rather quickly.

But whether or not the feds avoid a shutdown or regardless of how long it lasts, the real problem is on the horizon as the growing welfare state continues to cannibalize more of the federal budget until there’s nothing left but handouts and bureaucrats to process them.

The soldier holding that sign is wiser than he doth know.

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