The lament of universal ruin is as old as man himself, so it is not without reason that the carping greybeard is a figure of fun and contempt. Times change, and youth will always delight in the violets that sprout from the manure pile the old bequeath them. Times don’t change, and the old will always observe that the stink of the pile is much stronger than the scent of the violet.
Nothing stinks like rank mendacity, and there is no mendacity so rank as the corruption of language. Prepare to hold your nose.
I was this morning invited to an academic lecture on the “general crisis of protection along the U.S. / Mexico border, in which the United States government has abandoned its most basic obligations.” If you take the phrase “basic obligations” to mean its Constitutional obligations, and assume the word “protection” refers to its citizens, you have very outdated ideas about academic lectures, the United States government, and the rights of a U.S. citizen.
As the announcement for this lecture explains, the “most basic obligations” of the United States government are “to protect those fleeing persecution and to honor the basic sanctity of human life.” If true, this means that the United States government cannot protect the life, liberty, or property of a citizen of the United States if protecting that life, liberty, or property would incommode the flight of persons “fleeing persecution.”
No obligations can be more basic that the “most basic obligations,” and basic obligations naturally have priority over secondary obligations.
The most basic obligation of a married man is to his household. This is why he is called a husband, that first syllable being a contraction of the word house. If a husband is able to meet his obligation to his house, he should then (and only then) look to secondary obligations beyond the walls of his house. The most basic obligation of a government is to its citizens. One can argue that this is especially the case if it is a republican government, the public in that name referring to its actual citizens as defined by its laws and constitution. Its obligations to non-citizens, if they exist, are properly secondary.
It is a very queer and unsatisfactory government that puts the interests of its citizens on a level with the interests of foreigners. It is a monstrous and abominable government that puts the interests of its citizens below the interests of foreigners. It is, indeed, an anti-republican government that is laughing at the public interest while sending its citizens the bill.
This lament now seems especially urgent, but it is not at all new. Here are the apposite opening lines of a sonnet by the seventeenth-century Spanish poet Francisco de Quevedo, as translated by John Masefield
“I saw the ramparts of my native land,
One time so strong, now dropping in decay,
Their strength destroyed by this new age’s way
That has worn out and rotted what was grand.”
If these lines do not describe the present state of our southern border, I do not know what does. But Quevedo/Masefield goes on to say something equally trenchant about neglect of the public interest on this side of the Rio Grande. And it must be said that the public bears a large share of the blame for this neglect
“I went into my house: I saw how spotted,
Decaying things made that old home their prize.
My withered walking-staff had come to bend;
I felt the age had won; my sword was rotted,
And there was nothing on which I set my eyes
That was not a reminder of the end.”
If you can convince me that I am wrong “to feel the age has won,” can show me aught but “decaying things” in my old home, or can direct my eyes to anything that is “not a reminder of the end,” I ask you to do so, please.
But don’t expect me to be consoled by dung-hill violets.