It's amazing how much St. Augustine's view of the Rome of his day applies to America today.
For the last few weeks, I have been carrying on a debate of my proposal regarding consumer debt relief on the Presidential Transition Team's general discussion bulletin board, in string that started here. The debate has been lively, stretches over several pages and includes comments by a number of people. I had consistently made the point that consumer debt is an important component of our country's financial crisis, and that finding a solution to the consumer debt component of the problem is absolutely essential. I had also argued, and several others had agreed, that through education and other means, the country absolutely must be weaned off of its dependence on consumer debt. Other commenters, however, took the position that the only cause of the problem was individual weakness and the problem would be completely solved if we would all learn to "just say no."
Then, in response to these comments, Bradley MacLeod made the very perceptive observation that, because of the intense marketing of debt by banks and because of other social pressures, "It is getting to the point in our society that just saying no is socially unacceptable."
I agree with this observation. But this is not the first time in history this pattern has been seen. St. Augustine described Rome in the early part of the Fifth Century as follows:
"Do not imagine that it was by force of arms that our ancestors made a great nation out of a small community. If that were true, we should today have a far more glorious nation. In allies, in our own citizens, in armaments, in horses, we have greater resources than they enjoyed. But it was energy in our own land, a rule of justice outside our borders; in forming policy, a mind that is free because not at the mercy of criminal passions. Instead of these, we have self-indulgence and greed, public poverty and private opulence. We praise riches: we pursue a course of sloth. No distinction is made between good men and bad: the intrigues of ambition win the prizes due to merit. No wonder, when each of you thinks only of his own private interest; when at home you are slaves to your appetites, and to money and influence in your public life. The consequence is that an attack is being launched on a republic left without defenses."
St. Augustine, Concerning the City of God Against the Pagans, Book V, Ch. 13, quoting Sallust, who was commenting on a still earlier phase in Rome's history--but could easily (except for the reference to "horses") have been commenting on the history of the United States.