That being said, nothing is forever and nothing is granted to be forever. That is one of the maddening things about the study of history ... all those annoying echoes.
Sometime in the mid-first century a.d., an otherwise little known consular official, Gaius Petronius, wrote a brilliant satirical novel about the gross and pretentious new Roman-imperial elite. The Satyricon is an often-cruel parody about how the Roman agrarian republic of old had degenerated into a wealth-obsessed, empty society of wannabe new elites, flush with money, and both obsessed with and bored with sex. Most of the Satyricon is lost. But in its longest surviving chapter — “Dinner with Trimalchio” — Petronius might as well have been describing our own 21st-century nomenklatura.You need to read the whole thing; classic Victor Davis Hanson.
A country that once lost 600 legionnaires a minute at Cannae is reduced to gossiping about precious jewelry, exotic food, and sick gladiatorial games in the arena. Our elites go through some of the same bored melodrama. Withdrawal dates, red lines, deadlines, and leading from behind form our new rhetorical military. While Trimalchio parties in Pompeii on stuffed boar and sparrows (sort of like wagyu beef on a bed of arugula), somewhere to the unmentioned north legionnaires keep back the “barbarians” on the Rhine and the Danube. But they are as out of sight and mind as those who are camped out tonight in the Afghan highlands, or the “at this point, what difference does it make?” Americans killed in Benghazi, or the SEAL teams who dropped in on bin Laden while the president was playing card games with staffers.
Civil rights once meant an existential struggle between the oppressed and villains like Bull Connor with his dogs and fire hoses. Now Oprah is miffed over being treating rudely while eyeing a $38,000 purse in Switzerland; the NAACP wants sensitivity training for a rodeo clown with an Obama mask; American Idol’s failed contestants sue for “cruel and inhuman treatment”; near-billionaire rapper Jay-Z warns that the have-nots may riot; and a depressed former congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. was reduced to spending $750,000 of other people’s money on essentials like stuffed elk heads and Michael Jackson’s old fedora.
Just as Petronius’s world went on for another 400 years, ours may too.
As for me, I'm going to get a copy of The Satyricon, Complete, modern translation, natch. The older translations kept the naughty bits in Latin, and I doubt my quarter-century old Latin will work that well, and the interesting worlds won't be in my dictionary.
Oh, as a final note; you can catch VDH in the second hour of Midrats from a few years ago.
As a final treat to round things off - you can go to the 24-minute point for the latest Clinton Foundation fundraiser.