Let me begin my wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2013, and to say also that it is not my intent here to “call out” anyone with respect to their religious beliefs or the morality system with which they were raised or subsequently adopted. If I am a disciple of any moral code, it would be one that tolerates the numerous and unexplained mysteries of what makes this universe a bearable place. Or, as Frank Sinatra put it, “I’m for anything that gets you through the night, be it prayer, tranquilizers, or a bottle of Jack Daniels.”
There is a tendency among some to invoke the memory of Ancient Rome when they are looking for historical antecedents to help them define some moral point or other about the decline of Western—and more specifically, American—values. I would offer that ‘these people’—in today’s culture, mostly religious conservatives, nationalist-types, and fringe prophesy theorists—fail to grasp the very history they want to conjure.
Most of the moral decay (including no doubt the “perversion” of homosexuality) that keeps them up nights pre-dates Imperial—and even Republican—Rome and probably goes back to that naughty night when Ooglook the Neanderthal and Yammoo the Cro-Magnon decided to invent “getting your freak on.”
More than the Decline of the Roman Empire, America at the dawn of the Third Millennium closely parallels Tudor England, that “Merrie Olde Tyme” so charmingly brought to life in Renaissance fairs across the planet (there’s one coming up in Deerfield Beach next month), which ran its course for roughly the century beginning just before 1500 and ending just after 1600.
As well as giving us the cultural legacy of fat King Henry VIII and the beginnings of many modern popular entertainment forms, the Tudor century also defined much of the morality (I am fighting the urge to say “priggishness” and “sexual hypocrisy”) that would inform the birth of Puritanism and later—in a very real, meaningful, and in some instances tragic fashion— the American Experiment.
Like America in recent years, the world of Tudor England was one where the rich got richer and the poor got both poorer and more numerous. (In a modern illustration, in the year I was born the U.S. population was roughly 180 million; fast forward 48 years and that number has nearly doubled, to about 310 million.)
Like the government of Henry VIII and his children Edward VI (from “Prince and the Pauper” fame), Mary I (recall her when you consume your next Bloody Mary), and Elizabeth I (memorably portrayed on the big screen by Bette Davis, Judy Dench, and Cate Blanchett), managing the seriously poor has become a preoccupation of successive presidencies since roughly the dawn of the 20th Century (when Theodore Roosevelt first drew attention