By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Corn: American politics in midst of new Lost Generation
Placeholder Image

It has been said that when the absurd becomes the norm, an age of decadence is in full swing.

The spectacle of two political parties trying to score points on television while the country's business is neglected and the treasury is looted would be absurd to the point of hilarity, if one were able to disregard the coming consequences.

This dysfunctional Congress is indicative of an age in which innovation in affairs of government, art, literature, academics and manners is in serious decline. Five hundred years in the modern era weighs heavily on the body politic and decay has set in. The great struggle of our time is not to build anew, but to hold upright what is still standing and stave off the destructive forces that encroach on nearly every aspect of our culture.

Cultural decline is nothing to be gloomy about, for history shows that such a cycle is a natural human phenomenon. What's more, a good leveling of the culture often results in new vigor and vibrancy in civilization.

Many have argued that it was the Black Plague that cleared the stage in Europe for the explosive cultural output of the Italian Renaissance, when the peninsula shone so brightly with achievements that it lit the darkest corners of the known world and set loose a human energy that propelled generations to remarkable heights for half a millennium.

In contrast, today's decline is evident everywhere we feel the desire to address an issue, but don't have the will to act. We did not come to this point easily. Nevertheless, after consuming itself in the orgy of violence we call the two world wars, the West began its retirement in earnest. An entire generation of Europeans was slaughtered and most of its industrial infrastructure destroyed.

America emerged as the de facto leader of the Western world and underwent an enormous economic expansion by filling demand when the rest of the world's factories were in ruin. But signs of cultural fatigue were present in the U.S. even after World War I, when the artists of the Lost Generation produced a haunting body of work that defined the last period of the arts to be taken seriously by society as a whole. What writer of serious literature today has the international stature of Hemingway? What painter that of Picasso?

The breaking up of the tightly knit social communities and rigid institutions that give culture its base soon spread from the arts to morals, language, schools and finally to government. The inherently conservative nature of politics seems to make it the last bastion of a culture, but today we see even those institutions cracking under the pressure.

The last 30 years has witnessed an remarkable period of decline in the authority of government. The most ruinous example of this loss can be seen in bank deregulation. This surrender of authority, which began under the Reagan administration and was thoroughly implemented by President Bill Clinton, brought about a huge excess of easy money followed by the inevitable collapse of our credit system.

To return to the original point, in this age of difficulty it is not necessary to innovate to hold our system together, but to draw on the known ideas and principles that have worked in the past. For bank reform, Paul Volcker — a man with no political ambitions, no partisan history, but with an enormous wealth of experience in applied economics — suggests a sober return to such measures that have worked in the past, like the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated financial gambling from our savings deposits.

The ultimate absurdity in politics today is one governing faction that believes sincerely in destroying government authority. This would be like having a school principal who would send the teachers home, throw out all the books and have the children play all day. It might be pleasant for the students, but would anything productive be done? What type of graduates would the school produce, and then what function would the school serve? None.

So why not shut the whole thing down? This is the ridiculous logic of the "no government" faction. It is contrary to the true conservatism of a strong state of authority that favors social order over destructive disruption.

It cannot be denied that government must be kept in its proper place, since it has the tendency to overreach. But people who take useful principles to illogical extremes in practice are not only foolish but dangerous when they obtain real power.

Without real intervention, we may be headed for a period of serious civil unrest. For the field seems prepared now for a great leveling; entrenched interests are giving no ground.

Along with the "no government" faction, we have a generation ready to fleece the one behind it through unrestrained welfare programs, apparently with no apologies. Commercial interests stand ready to dominate employees to the point of using spies to control them. Financial speculators have captured the American Treasury and are busily enriching themselves with the spoils of their conquest.

I venture that this state of affairs will not persist for long, for no free-minded people will tolerate such conditions.

Jesse Corn is a Gainesville native and a Forsyth County resident. His column appears every other Friday and on