Cradle and Grave? Nations that Built the West Now Pulling it Down

One of the joys of studying history is discovering the enormous number of bizarre coincidences scattered throughout the affairs of men. Example: Thomas Jefferson, primary author of the Declaration of Independence, died on the 50th anniversary of the adoption of that document, giving his last breath on July 4, 1826. As if that wasn’t coincidence enough, Jefferson’s friend and fellow revolutionary (and his predecessor in the presidency) John Adams passed away on the very same day. “Jefferson still survives,” were Adams’ final words, unaware that his lifelong rival and colleague had expired a few hours previously.

Another interesting coincidence: Free government was invented by two separate peoples, apparently independently, within one year of each other in the late 6th century BC. In 509, the Roman people overthrew the Etruscan kingship that had ruled Rome for centuries and instituted what may have been the world’s first popular government — the Republic was born. A year later across the Adriatic, an Athenian named Cleisthenes helped overthrow the Peisistratid tyranny and ushered in reforms that gave the world its first democracy.

These two peoples, the Italians and the Greeks, for whatever reason, all but invented the civil institutions that define Western civilization to this day. How utterly and sadly ironic then, that Italy and Greece are now championing the very pathologies that may bring about the West’s ultimate demise — government spending, entitlement mentality, and corruption.

As the massive public debt of the two Mediterranean nations threaten to engulf Europe (and the rest of the world) in a financial conflagration that would make the 2008 crisis look like a hiccup, the people of the those nations react to the prospect of cuts in their entitlements with riots, threats, strikes, and violence. And no wonder: As The Washington Post noted, in Italy, “The pension system only until a few years ago allowed workers as young as 50 to retire with pensions as much as 80 percent of their last paychecks.” The government can giveth, but it can’t taketh away — not without a fight, anyway.

Lethargy has replaced liberty as the animating spirit of the Greek and Italian people. Those who once fought for their freedom are now fighting for their handouts. It just goes to show how far the mighty can fall, and how seductive and poisonous are the fruits of government dependency.

We ignore the lesson at our peril.