by Taylor Caldwell
“This is a true story about a nation which was once great. At the outset, we will call that nation "Honoria;" but you will readily guess her true name, as the story unfolds. Honoria had always been distinguished by a strong, sturdy, industrious middle class, composed of farmers, artisans, shopkeepers- virtuous and sane and devout. But the middle class presented a threat to an all-powerful government, determined to protect the rich and the strong- and the worthless, the mean, the haters-of-work, the whining cowards who wanted everything for nothing. So the government decided to get rid of the middle class. But the greedy mobs could never be satisfied. They made endless demands on the Senators. They stood in government offices and howled. They howled for more. And they got it. But still the howl went up for more and more; and the Senators, now the creatures of the mobs, tried to provide everything the mobs demanded.
And the middle class, the backbone of the nation? They were reduced to despair. They dared not have children; they couldn't afford them. While the mob enjoyed their public housing, their free sports, their free meals, the middle class worked ceaselessly, trying to get ahead of their tax bills, trying to live, trying to keep their schools alive for their children. It was all no use. They began to dwindle away. They had to leave their houses. The mobs moved into their houses and turned them into slum dwellings. Crime became so commonplace that it was dangerous to be on the streets at night. Morality was dead.
The middle class, the hardworking, the self-reliant, slowly smothered from despair. Who cared? The mob had a full belly today and government promised to fill it again tomorrow. The middle class of Honoria stood in the way; it must be destroyed. Then, the elite could rule by oppression; and the craven, the despicable, the cowards, the worthless, could live on the bodies of the nobles and the heroic- through taxation. The monstrous state, the top-heavy bureaucracy, was happy. The cynical laughed among themselves. Freedom? Why, the people didn't want freedom. They wanted free entertainment, free bread, free housing. A degenerate nation deserved no freedom, no consideration.
An old general, who had been victimized by the government, stood up and cried aloud to Honoria to remember her past, to return to honor, to decent government, to the principles of the Founding Fathers, to God. The people hooted: He was a reactionary. He was eliminated. He retired, with bitterness, and thought his anguished thoughts. A Senator dared to stand up in the Senate and cry a halt to foreign subversion of Honoria and to constant foreign aid and the draining away of the people's money. Other Senators shrieked him down and called him vile names. He, too, was liquidated. And the nation fell deeper and deeper into debt, became more luxurious and rotten.
Honoria joined a league of the world, with her enemies. They exploited her. She taxed her citizens more and more to send her wheat and meat to those nations. In one of Honoria's stupid wars she allied herself with powerful barbarians who were full of hatred and envy, and the lust for power. Honoria sent "experts" to the barbarians to teach them the latest scientific discoveries. Honoria had become a corrupt and monstrous nation. Foreign tyrants and domestic mobs called the tune, and the spineless rulers of Honoria danced. The very walls of government echoed to the ever-growing demands for more foreign aid, more security, more bread, more sports, more government, more restrictions on the proud and the self-respecting. And the middle class finally died.
And what of the barbarians? They looked on Honoria with contempt. They were fierce and dedicated men. They had allies in the government of Honoria. Who could oppose them, with their savage ferocity? The time had come for them to take over Honoria, and destroy civilization. And the barbarians moved in. Who had made the barbarians so strong? Honoria, of course. Honoria had given the barbarians access to the wealth of Honoria, at the expense of the betrayed and ruined citizens of Honoria. Honoria had sacrificed her people so that her alleged allies could make common cause against her with the barbarians.
What is the real name of Honoria? Ancient Rome. You know what happened to ancient Rome. The barbarians, in the fifth century, invaded Rome and destroyed her; and for hundreds of years, there was a long, black night of slavery and despair and rain. Rome had not only betrayed herself but all the civilized world with her. The barbarians ranged over that civilized world; and the cultures of thousands of years were destroyed, so that only fragments have come down to us, mere fragments of great and mighty literature, and law, and beauty.
Fortunately, one thing did survive: The Twelve Tables of Common Roman Law. Those Tables of Law formed the basis of English Common Law and, more indirectly, of the American Constitution. Had Rome retained her Constitution, she would perhaps have survived and her splendor would not have been extinguished. But she permitted the slow erosion of her Constitution, just as we are permitting the quicker erosion of our Constitution. Everything which strikes at our Constitution brings us closer to death as a free nation, just as Rome died. Each time a new treaty of alliance is signed with foreign nations, we die a little more, as Rome died. Each time the Supreme Court or the President violates the Constitution, we come closer to slavery- as Rome came.
Nearly two thousand years stand between us and Rome. Never before the rise of Rome, and never since, did two nations so remarkably resemble each other, in history, in splendid rise in civilization, in magnificent communication between nations, in grandeur and wealth. In strange and amazing ways, we are the counterpart of ancient Rome. Her history, almost step by step, is our history.
Shall we continue along the path which led to the extinction of Rome? We have made her terrible mistakes; we have duplicated her crimes and stupidities, almost to the letter. WE are destroying our Constitution, the only safeguard we have in the face of domestic and foreign enemies, just as she destroyed hers. We are permitting government by men, now, instead of government by law- just as Rome finally did.
So long as Rome remained Rome- patriotic, proud, virtuous and healthy- she remained a strong and powerful nation. When she became internationalistic, underwrote the economies of other nations, permitted her rulers to become dictators, enmeshed herself with the problems of aliens and taxed her own people to support those aliens, she began to die. When she became militaristic, and had her armies spread on foreign soil, the fabric of her life was weakened and strained, and the wild sword of the barbarian cut it easily. It is a stern fact of history that no nation that rushed to the abyss ever turned back. Not ever, in the long history of the world. We are now on the edge of the abyss. Can we, for the first time in history, turn back? It is up to you."