The follies that cause nations to crumble

Posted Oct. 04, 2010, at 5:49 p.m.

Not far from Deering Oaks Park in Portland is the most tranquil and sublime spot in Maine: Evergreen Cemetery, the final resting place of Gov. Percival Baxter. This place provides a moment of rest and contemplation for the harried citizen. The visitor wanders down well-tended paths, past elaborately carved monuments ornamented with garlands, crosses and crowns, tokens in stone for what is best and highest in life.

Yet, nothing lasts forever, not even the monuments commemorating the brief life of man. These too, are worn by wind, discolored by decades of alternating light and shade, cracked and crumbling by the settling of the earth and the weight of the stone itself.

All that exists in nature, the lives of nations included, has a beginning and an end. How nations perish is a subject of dispute. The greatest historians have claimed that the lives of nations are cyclical, nations being born in vigor and ending in decrepitude. Other historians claim that nations collapse after losing the invigorating principles that are uniquely their own.

Despite these competing theories, one fact is beyond dispute. Each collapsing dynasty, nation or age has left behind a record of missteps, blunders and outright calamities caused by rulers who would not heed sound counsel. The pages of historians East and West are replete with the follies of emperors and the scandalous behavior of their wives. The many infidelities and unnatural lusts of rulers bring ruin to their own lives and the lives of their families. But it is the corrupt adviser, the intriguer or adulterer, the vizier, the eunuch or guardian of the harem who proves most ruinous to the state.

The dry and dusty tax rolls, the records of canals dug and monuments excavated do not excite our interest. The foibles of our leaders do intrigue us, and they admonish us as well.

Many of these tales are lurid, some are gruesome, and others border on the prurient. But none is as breathtakingly a monument to folly as what transpired in our own backyard in Deering Oaks Park. Search the histories of all nations, and you will not find a like example. As if by some unseen law of growth and decay, the appearance of Lady Gaga showed that the freest, richest and most powerful of nations was fated to fall into the grossest and most appalling decadence.

The singer’s appearance in Portland was meant to bring political pressure on Maine’s two senators. In a celebrity-driven culture, where image prevails over substance, a singer of dirty songs has equal or greater influence than the men who defend their nation in the face of iron, fire and blood.

In the end, both senators acted out of political expediency and joined with their party in a procedural move that blocked the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe issued statements saying they would wait until the Department of Defense completes its review of the policy on Dec. 1.

This was disingenuous on Sen. Collins’ part, since she has consistently expressed strong support for repealing the policy over the objections of each member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Collins also ignored the advice of more than 1,000 top military officials when she supported the repeal in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The matter goes far beyond a lack of the appropriate expertise on Lady Gaga’s part. If a nation gives equal weight to the advice of expert and non-expert, what is lost is the very criterion of reason itself. And reason — the ability to deliberate on matters of public policy — is the bone, marrow and sinew of democracies.

A nation, if fortunate, may survive an ill-advised defense policy. That same nation may even survive gays in the military. But no nation will ever survive the loss of its reason.

Fritz Spencer, a Bangor native, is a patent translator and former editor of the Christian Civic League Record.

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