Friday, June 29, 2012

Sobered Up

The sun also rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to his place where he arose.
     [Ecclesiastes 1:5]
For most people in our circle, yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act caused elation combined with a certain chagrin—chagrin present because most of us don’t really like the confusing stitch-work of that act, a mosaic of compromises. Nevertheless, the idea of a national health care plan, reaching all citizens, appears highly desirable and just. I for one expected the Court to kill it. Hence yesterday turned into a kind of dizzy, half-staggering dance of celebration. Today sobriety returns.

I woke up this morning with an observation that has kept recurring ever since I had my first courses in American history in high school. It is that the history of democracies is in a sense incoherent. Now this, but then the reversal of this. Now that, which is a reversal of that other, but not quite a reversal. But be sure that that which we now celebrate will not long survive the choppy sentiments of a chaotically agitated public. And so on and on. Successions of people, briefly glimpsed, obscured, returning, exiled, executed, triumphant, over-come, etc., etc.

Examples are Athens, Republican Rome, Britain, and the United States. In times of democracy, too much change. The periods in the history of democracies that take on a certain structure are invariably military disasters of some kind. Hence I have a very good grasp of our Civil War, but the befores and afters are blurry for me—until we reach the World Wars. And after that, much of the same.

Now as Ecclesiastes observes, recurring change is as much a characteristic of the macrocosm as of the life of societies—with the sun hastening in darkness to return to its beginnings again. The real longing is for the higher law, beyond society and nature, but in this realm, let’s face it, the best we can hope for is occasional approximations the roots of which, even before they spread their leaves, are already under attack by gnawing creatures.  

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