Ingratitude: The Destroyer of Nations
Civic gratitude is not only a virtue, but a nation’s most necessary virtue. History bears that out. Rome was the greatest empire in ancient history, therefore its fall was the greatest fall the world had ever seen. Why did Rome fall? Some people say it was because of its high taxes. Others say it was weakened by its embrace of Christian compassion. It could have been bad luck. But the most common answer is Rome fell because of decadence. Decadence gets closer to the truth than anything else, but it’s a particular kind of decadence that we’re talking about.
In the first century, Saint Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome and he nailed it better than any commentator before or since. He said that Rome ceased to believe in monotheism; ‘neither were they thankful’. Paul observed that at the root of Rome’s decadence was ingratitude. You see, Roman citizens at one point in their history had had more than any other citizens in the world. They had a strong tradition of property rights, low taxes, and a voice in their politics. All of this was guaranteed by a republican form of government which placed an extremely high premium on the rule of law. During the glorious days of the Roman Republic, law was over the king and not the king over the law. That all changed with the coming of the Caesars who promised greater wealth, greater privileges, and eventually bread (welfare) and circuses (violent entertainment). There is only one thing the Romans needed to give up in order to gains these benefits: their republican form of government. That sort of appeal only works against a particular kind of people — ungrateful people. This is what the Romans were in that generation, and this is what Saint Paul saw. (Note to those who have not studied history: just re-rent Star Wars: Attack of the Clones and you’ll get the general flavor of these events.)
The appeal of the despot is always the same: give up what you have now and I will create Heaven on Earth. Implicit in this bargain is this premise: ‘You have nothing to lose’. It is only a people who have become severed from the virtue of political gratitude who believe they have nothing to lose. In short, gratefulness is the chief bulwark against the demagogue. The story of the 20th Century, which is the bloodiest century in world history, is largely the story of what happens to the world when gratitude fades and people are wooed into giving up the hard-won liberty of centuries in exchange for racial glory (the Nazis), or economic security (the Communists). Our ancestors knew this and offered something to inoculate us against it: Thanksgiving Day. Let’s honor them and their gift to us.
Jerry Bowyer is a Forbes contributor, contributing editor of AffluentInvestor.com, and Senior Fellow in Business Economics at The Center for Cultural Leadership.
Jerry has compiled an impressive record as a leading thinker in finance and economics. He worked as an auditor and a tax consultant with Arthur Anderson, as Vice President of the Beechwood Company which is the family office associated with Federated Investors, and has consulted in various privatization efforts for Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. He founded the influential economic think tank, the Allegheny Institute, and has lectured extensively at universities, businesses and civic groups.
Jerry has been a member of three investment committees, among which is Benchmark Financial, Pittsburgh’s largest financial services firm. Jerry had been a regular commentator on Fox Business News and Fox News. He was formerly a CNBC Contributor, has guest-hosted “The Kudlow Report”, and has written for CNBC.com, National Review Online, and The Wall Street Journal, as well as many other publications. He is the author of The Bush Boom and more recently The Free Market Capitalist’s Survival Guide, published by HarperCollins. Jerry is the President of Bowyer Research.
Jerry consulted extensively with the Bush White House on matters pertaining to the recent economic crisis. He has been quoted in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes Magazine, The International Herald Tribune and various local newspapers. He has been a contributing editor of National Review Online, The New York Sun and Townhall Magazine. Jerry has hosted daily radio and TV programs and was one of the founding members of WQED’s On-Q Friday Roundtable. He has guest-hosted the Bill Bennett radio program as well as radio programs in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Jerry is the former host of WorldView, a nationally syndicated Sunday-morning political talk show created on the model of Meet The Press. On WorldView, Jerry interviewed distinguished guests including the Vice President, Treasury Secretary, HUD Secretary, former Secretary of Sate Condoleezza Rice, former Presidential Advisor Carl Rove, former Attorney General Edwin Meese and publisher Steve Forbes.
Jerry has taught social ethics at Ottawa Theological Hall, public policy at Saint Vincent’s College, and guest lectured at Carnegie Mellon’s graduate Heinz School of Public Policy. In 1997 Jerry gave the commencement address at his alma mater, Robert Morris University. He was the youngest speaker in the history of the school, and the school received more requests for transcripts of Jerry’s speech than at any other time in its 120-year history.
Jerry lives in Pennsylvania with his wife, Susan, and the youngest three of their seven children.