It is difficult to convey a brilliant insight in less than 2,000 words, but Victor David Hanson has done it. In a brief essay published last week, Hanson said it is inaccurate to compare our declining American civilization to the fall of the Roman Empire. In truth, Hanson argued, our nations is becoming like medieval Europe.
Like today's America, Hanson points out, medieval Europe could boast some fine universities where the sum of human knowledge increased. But the universities of that day, like our modern American universities, had strict speech codes. The sun revolved around the earth, and woe to any medieval scholar who argued otherwise. And today of course professors are permitted to express only one point of view on important global issues like climate change.
Humanist scholars of medieval times "wrote esoteric treatises than no one read," Hanson writes. "These works were sort of like the incomprehensible 'theory' articles of university humanities professors who are up for tenure."
Hanson definitely got that right. Not to mention the 10,000 law review articles that law professors and their students publish every year even as the core principles of our legal system disintegrate.
In my view, Hanson's most trenchant comparison between contemporary America and medieval Europe relates to the economy. Today, as Hanson notes, one fifth of Americans own absolutely nothing or have negative worth, much like medieval serfs. In fact, 18 percent of adult Americans have student-loan debt, which they are permitted to work off by donating a percentage of their income to the government over 20 or 25 years--just like peasants.
Indeed, America becomes more like medieval society with each passing day. The middle class--once the glory of liberal democracy--gets smaller every year. The nation's elites fly in private jets, work in fortress-like offices, and are protected by private security agencies; they are truly lords and barons surrounded by modern-day moats. Their kids go to the best private schools. And the elites do a good job of protecting their income from taxes.
Meanwhile the rest of us ride the subway or commute to work on crumbling freeways. We pay taxes at a higher rate than either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and we send our kids to mediocre schools. Defined-benefit retirement plans are fast disappearing, and we put our puny savings into the stock market because the elite have declared that we can earn nothing on our savings if we invest anywhere else.
Everywhere, the non-elites are getting poorer, but the slide into serfdom is most evident in rural America. In my own hometown of Anadarko, Oklahoma, the little family shops and stores of my childhood are all empty and boarded up. If you want to buy something--almost anything at all--you must go to Walmart. Hundreds of houses have been abandoned, including the one I lived in as a kindergarten child. Drug addiction and suicide are up; decent jobs have disappeared.
Americans know in their hearts that our slide into medievalism will accelerate after the national election unless our economy is radically restructured. Let us hope President Trump can do what he promised he would do to restore jobs to middle-class and working-class Americans.
Victor David Hanson. Medieval America, Town Hall, October 13, 2016. Available at http://townhall.com/columnists/victordavishanson/2016/10/13/medieval-america-n2231213http://townhall.com/columnists/victordavishanson/2016/10/13/medieval-america-n2231213