Greek mythology tells the tale of Erysichthon, the powerful King of Thessaly. The story goes that Erysichthon, seeking wood, ordered the trees in a sacred grove to be cut. When his workers refused, fearing divine retribution, he did it himself; for this he was cursed. The curse placed upon Erysichthon was simple: unending hunger. In the end, Erysichthon ended up selling his daughter into slavery for the money to buy more food. Eventually, Erysichthon, lacking the resources to feed himself, ate his own body.
A nation that understands itself — that understands its purpose in the world — flourishes. Such nations, historically, have not shied away from their part on the stage of history. They have recognized a simple truth: In the game of power, vacuums are filled, generally by those who are most aggressive. And thus, surrender of the good means victory for the bad.
Historically, America has understood this. America has always been uncomfortable with the realities of foreign policy but has never shied away from its actual role as a player on the world stage. Yes, America was geographically removed from Europe, but that didn’t stop America from competing with the French, British and Spanish empires. It was Thomas Jefferson, writing to his presidential successor James Madison, who said in 1809, “we should have such an empire for liberty as she has never surveyed since the creation: & I am persuaded no constitution was ever before so well calculated as ours for extensive empire & self-government.” It was James Monroe in 1823 who declared that “the American continents, by the free and independent condition which they have assumed and maintain, are henceforth not to be considered as subjects for future colonization by any European powers.”
A powerful America was good, and a powerful America was necessary.
When nations lose themselves — when nations destroy their sacred groves — they open a hole in themselves. That hole is ever-growing, ever-gnawing. And it cannot be satiated.
But that’s just it: the hunger is itself the satisfaction. Our hunger gives us a mission. We must cure all inequality, even inequality caused by differences in behavior — the unavoidable condition of humanity — by spending trillions of dollars not yet created. We must rectify the imbalances of history — the unavoidable condition of humanity — by skewing all institutions toward “equity.” We must abandon our prior foreign policy commitments — and our real foreign policy interests — in the name of quixotic attempts to “build back better” at home. We must rewrite the basic social compact in order to alleviate all natural differences between human beings.
We must sacrifice our sons and daughters to our hunger. We must teach them idiotic doctrines about complete human malleability, training them for confusion and chaos. We must indoctrinate them with the evils of our own philosophy, while teaching them that cultural diversity mandates that we overlook the far greater evils of other cultures. We must demand that our children protect us, rather than protecting our children. And, of course, we must snarl them in a web of debt not of their own making, condemning them to a future footing our bills.
And then, in the end, we eat ourselves. We turn on each other, recognizing that our mission has been lost and that our hunger can’t satisfy us. We treat each other as enemies while downplaying the actual presence of actual enemies.
And then we disappear.
Or, alternatively, we don’t.
We realize that whatever our faults, whatever our shortcomings, we have a role in the world; that whatever our faults, whatever our shortcomings, we still are heirs to the greatest founding philosophy in world history; that whatever our faults, whatever our shortcomings, we are still citizens of the same body politic.
The choice is still in our hands.
But if Afghanistan is any indicator, it’s quickly slipping away.