Our Fellow, Michael Hartoonian, in his article “Our Circular Firing Squad” raises a very pertinent question: can cultures commit suicide?
I can think of many cultures being conquered and then having their culture suppressed. The Hittites, Trojans and Etruscans are no longer with us. The Chinese sinicized the ancient Yueh tribes living south of the Yangtze River and are at it again with Buddhist Tibetans and Muslim Uighurs.
Then, there are cases of assimilation. Did not the small Latin states become Roman and, later, Gauls and Goths Romanize themselves? Christianity pushed aside the pagan cults of the Celts and Germanic peoples. The Yueh peoples, except those we now know as the Vietnamese, accepted sinicization. The process of modernization (Westernization?) since World War II has brought many modifications to cultures and societies around the world.
But how many cultures have evolved their values in a way that lead to their collapse from internal discord or self-sabotage?
Gibbon’s explanations for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire pointed to an internal devolution of key value variables – trust, self-confidence, willingness to fight wars, personal assumption of responsibility and the rise of a rentier elite.
One might say that one of the most important existential functions of ethics is to forestall cultural, social and political collapse.
Michael brought these thoughts to my mind. His description of how a circular firing squad mentality takes over a culture exposes the consequences of turning against virtue ethics – in both ideals and practices.
In 59 BC, Cicero similarly exposed what was driving the Roman Republic to suicide: nos virtutem adligatam est – “our virtue is in chains.”
Thus, put on notice by Cicero, the Caux Round Table has chosen for its motto Virtus Non Adligata or “Virtue is not chained.”
As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
I would appreciate your thoughts on the trends which are becoming more and more dire for my country.