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Polybius and the Death Spiral of a Republic


How do great nations end? What is the death spiral of a republic? In today’s post by former UVA professor Garrett Ward Sheldon, you will learn the answers to those questions and more!

Mr. Sheldon has written numerous articles for this site in the past, including one on why Trump will win again in 2020, one on developing a proper understanding of the US Constitution, and one on the fact that Democrats are Marxists. All three of those articles are excellent and are ones you should consider reading after this one on the death spiral of a republic.

Frankly, I do not think that this article could come at a more relevant time. America seems to be unraveling right now as riots and protests wrack the nation, the out of power party transitions to the tyrannical ideology of socialism, and things seem more divided than ever. Is this the death spiral of the American republic? Or are things just darkest before dawn and America is about to experience a great revival? Finish this article to find out!

-Gen Z Conservative

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America and the Death Spiral of a Republic

To understand the extraordinary events in America today, it is helpful to look at the Ancient Wisdom of Greece and Rome, who went through all of this before. And as the wise Historian Thucydides said, “If we forget the mistakes of the past, we are doomed to repeat them.” The Classical Greek authors Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, as well as the Romans Cicero and St. Augustine, explain much of what we are experiencing in politics today. A certain textbook, THE HISTORY OF POLITICAL THEORY: Ancient Greece to Modern America, is helpful in this endeavor.

The ancient Greco-Roman Historian Polybius (200-118 B.C.) developed a theory of the Lifecycle of a Republic. Like a human being, a Republic is born, is young, matures, grows old, and dies. The United States was “born” in 1776 (Independence) and 1789 (The Constitution); was a youth in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries; you might say was adolescent in the mid-1800s (Civil War) and matured in the industrial age of late 19th and early 20th Centuries. But, by the mid-20th Century, especially after World War II, our country grew “old”, and beginning in the 1960s, frail, sickly, and senile. 

Like the human person, elderly Republics become weak and sickly, sad, and demented. 

A society shows this old age in moral weakness, political corruption, decadence, and depravity. Ironically, it is the virtues of an early Republic (Athens, Rome, America): hard work, honesty, courage, frugality, morality, that leads to great wealth and power and then to its decline. A rich, worldly Republic becomes a powerful, decadent Empire.  Imperial regimes become proud and arrogant, depraved, foolish, self-indulgent, and unethical. Sound familiar? 

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The solution for preserving a dying Republic is the same as for an aging individual: return to the vigor, strength, values, and goodness of a healthy youth. All the Classical philosophers prescribe returning to the principles of the Founding: civic virtue; a work ethic; honesty; family loyalty; patriotism; military honor; law and order; personal morality; religion. 

As the aging corpse of the American body politic restores the qualities of its youthful innocence (with now mature judgment) it may avoid the painful and disgraceful collapse and ruin of the Athenian, Roman, and European Empires.

By: Garrett Ward Sheldon

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