There is a lot of wisdom in the oft-quoted statement by philosopher George Santayana, who wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (Reason in Common Sense, The Life of Reason, Vol.1) America and other Western countries, although totally oblivious to the fact, are deep in the process of repeating the mistakes of the past.
A fascinating study in this regard was written by Professor Stuart Brown of the Memorial University of Newfoundland, and published in the Bulletin of the Canadian Society for Mesopotamian Studies, vol. 34 (1999). It was entitled, “The Collapse Of The Neo-Assyrian Empire,” and examined one of history’s great mysteries: The surprisingly sudden collapse and disintegration of powerful and proud ancient Assyria. How did that great empire go from a dominant nation in the mid-seventh century, B.C., ruling from Iran to Egypt under King Assurbanipal (685-627 B.C.), to a total non-existence less than a quarter of a century later? Historians have not agreed on the reason for Assyria’s demise, but Professor Brown has studied the issue in-depth and offered four prime reasons why Assyria, or any nation following her policies, would be doomed to disaster.
His first principle was that the “controlling elite” failed to “maintain legitimization.” We see today a great and growing divide between the left and right, the liberals and conservatives; each side demonizing the other, while the public’s trust in their government is at an all-time low. Just as significant is a great and ever-growing gulf between rich and poor. A recent survey revealed that only about ten percent of the American public approve of the job done by Congress in managing the country and its economy.
Brown’s second premise concerned the leader’s “responsiveness to a support population.” According to a recent report, less than fifty percent of adult Americans hold gainful employment, with over half the population now receiving various types of government aid or assistance. As voters, these people will (and are) voting themselves an increasing amount of entitlements from the public treasury. The national “free public health care” debate is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. A revealing editorial in the Wall Street Journal (March 31, 2012, C5) entitled, “The Endless Spending Spree,” states that the American national debt has risen from $408 billion in 1971, to $995 billion in 1981, to $5.8 trillion in 2001, to $15.6 trillion today. Yet the end is not in sight, and this astronomical debt load is expected to double from today’s level in only a few years. Sooner or later will come a day of reckoning.
Yet it was too little, too late
The third principle given is the “unrelenting cost of constant mobilization of resources.” Ancient Assyria spent itself broke in money, manpower, and resources: There were endless huge public works projects and a continuous series of wars in far-flung places. Similarly, America is spending billions fighting persistent wars overseas, with no end in sight, and a new war with Iran on the horizon. In an effort to pay for all of this, our national space program was gutted late last year by the President and Congress, and other science-related programs are endangered as well. Yet the national debt load only continues to increase to astounding levels.
As a fourth principle, Brown positioned the dangers inherent in a “more heterogeneous and unintegrated…population.” If there is a polite word to describe Assyria in its later years, it is “cosmopolitan.” The Assyrians carried out forced exiles of many conquered countries (including Biblical Israel and Judah), settling them throughout Assyrian lands, and became a very unwieldy mix of races and religions held together only by an Assyrian elite in the government centers of power. When the Assyrian capitals fell due to foreign invasions in 614-612 B.C., there was nothing left to hold the empire together.
The television news as I write tonight was abuzz about the major transformation that has taken place in America over the last seventy years. The 1940 U.S. census records have just been released to the public, which depicted an America at that time mostly white, rural, and Christian; a great contrast with the situation today where only 25% of the population consider themselves “evangelical,” and in a few years Caucasians will actually become a minority.
Author Diana Eck wrote of this in her book, “A New Religious America: How A Christian Country Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation.” (San Francisco, 2001) This book was reviewed by Professor Randall Balmer of Barnard College in New York. He commented, “Though little noticed at the time, Lyndon Johnson’s signing of the Immigration and Naturalization Act in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty on July 4, 1965, set the stage for a fundamental recasting of America’s religious landscape.” (Theology Today 60-2, p.248) This act overturned decades of settled laws in the United States, including the Reed-Johnson Act of 1924 and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, opening the door to multiplied tens of millions of non-Christian, non-Caucasian immigrants from all over the world. Balmer stated, “…the arrival of immigrants, especially from Asia and Southern Asia, has remade the United States from a ‘Christian Country’ into the most religiously diverse nation on the planet.” (ibid.) Of course, it was not only America’s Christian heritage that was supplanted beginning in the 1960’s, but our largely homogenous makeup as a people. This sudden new heterogeneity is in turn fueling an increasing amount of religious and racial rancor and division.
Is there hope for America and the Christian West? Author Brown commented, “…there are indications that Assyrian monarchs were aware of and attempted to deal with at least some” of these issues. Yet it was too little, too late in the case of the ancient empire of Assyria. What will America’s fate be?