Back in the days when kids read books, my mom would drop my brother and me off at the Lawrence Public Library (back when parents could actually feel safe doing this). “Readers are leaders,” she would say. And for hours, we would get lost in the pages of books and emerge with stacks to take home when she picked us up.
It was during one of those times that I discovered the British author Rosemary Sutcliff. Most of her works were historical fiction for young adults and I think to this day, some of her finest works are the eight books written in her series on Roman Britain, often called The Eagle of the Ninth series.
The middle book, The Lantern Bearers, was always one of my favorites. It is also considered the first in Sutcliff’s Arthurian series and follows the story of Aquila, a young decurion who goes “willful missing” to protect his family farm from the invading Saxons as the last of the Roman legions leave Britain. As the family farm is overrun and burned to the ground by the barbarians, Aquila and his sister are taken into captivity by the Saxons and his world collapses. Order, form, civilization are gone. Years later, Aquila escapes his Saxon captors during which time he discovers the raid on his family farm had been no accident, but a planned effort to wipe out those still loyal to Rome and its ways. Hearing of a new leader of the British people still loyal to Rome, Ambrosias Aurelianius, Aquila pledges his fealty and becomes close with Ambrosias and his nephew, Artos, also known as Arthur.
Over the years that follow and the constant warring against the Saxon invaders, Aquila, now one of Ambrosias’ generals, often wonders what it is he and the others are fighting for as the conflict never seems to end. One evening as he converses with Eugenus the physician, Aquila wonders if the tenuous peace that Ambrosias has won will last.
“For a while,” answers Eugenus.
“For a while? You do not sound over-hopeful,” replies Aquila.
“Oh, I am. In my own way, I am the most hopeful man alive. I believe that we shall hold the barbarians off for a while, and maybe for a long while, though-not forever. . . .I think that sometimes we stand at sunset. It may be that night will close over us in the end, but I believe that morning will come again. Morning always grows again out of the darkness, though maybe not for the people who saw the sun go down. We are the Lantern Bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.”
For us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind. . .
As I re-read The Lantern Bearers to my children, I have thought about the words of Eugenus many times as that which is old becomes new again in a Yeatsian cycle of life.
In one of those cycles, I think we are witnessing a societal change this Presidential election cycle. We may not have realized it until too late, but I am convinced that politics rests downstream from culture and is therefore a reflection of it.
And what is our culture?
One that, as J. Gresham Machen noted, began to, “Place the lives of children in their formative years, despite the convictions of their parents, under the intimate control of experts appointed by the state, force[d] them to attend schools where the higher aspirations of humanity are crushed out and where the mind is filled with the materialism of the day. . .”
In this new reality, Machen writes, “[I]t is difficult to see how even the remants of liberty can subsist.”
To put it bluntly, our public education system has failed us. Co-opted years ago by John Dewey and the progressives, the public education system has become nothing more than a systematic way to indoctrinate generations of uneducated members of society.
Dewey, an avowed atheist and secular humanist, viewed education as a means for societal reform. Out were reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, reason and languages and in was, as Dewey wrote, “education [as] a regulation of the process of coming to share in the social consciousness; and that the adjustment of individual activity on the basis of this social consciousness is the only sure method of social reconstruction.”
Now, a generation and a half into Dewey’s societal experiment, we have a gaping hole in culture filled with reality TV, cable news churning what they want people to hear 24/7, dependence on government and safe spaces.
Instead of an inherent knowledge of the history of our country, the principles we were founded on, a love of liberty and a reverence for the imperfect men who gave it to us, we face a brave new world of relativism in which the foundation is destroyed.
The best of what we once were no longer exists. We haven’t progressed. We have regressed.
In this regression we also face that which we collectively hoped was gone: a simmering racism immobilized in an up-until-now non-voting populace.
Doubt me? Look no further than the “alt-right” and the leaders of it. It was a curiosity to me to hear the media pontificate the last few months on how a deeply Evangelical candidate like Ted Cruz could lose to Donald Trump in the deep South. I refuse to paint with too broad a brush stroke here, but one must understand there is a deep difference between cultural Evangelicals (It’s the new “I’m an American, therefore a Christian!”) and weekly church going Evangelicals.
What we saw in the South over the last few months was not a rejection of Ted Cruz’s Evangelical Christianity. It was the reactivation of the non-voting Southerners who heard in Trump’s “Make America Great Again!” the dog whistle of “Make American White Again!” Is this all the Trump supporters? No, but it is a strong contingent of them. The disaffected, the disenchanted who feel that their “leaders” in Washington, DC have betrayed them by sending their jobs overseas.
While they have one part of the equation right, they have most of it wrong. They do not understand that Donald Trump cannot turn back thirty plus years of market forces influenced by bad corporate tax laws and regulation. Never again will they have their 9-5, union, manufacturing jobs again. The world has passed them by. In this loss, they are looking for a leader. One has been provided to this reality TV culture. One of their own-a reality TV star who, like the last emperors of Rome, seeks to control the masses with promises of bread and circuses.
In the midst of this encroaching mobocracy (the thing Founders like John Adams and others feared most) there are those of us who look to the near future and think, “All is lost.”
It is possible that we have reached a tipping point and will not be able to turn back from a “slouching towards Gomorrah.”
In fact, that is a distinct possibility.
But as we face this sunset with the promise of a morning to come, be it near or far, it is contingent upon those of us who believe in something, who understand the parameters of a just society, who know right from wrong, who value all people, no matter the race, skin color or creed to be lantern bearers in the ever encroaching darkness.
To be light in the darkness.
“We are the lantern bearers, my friend; for us to keep something burning, to carry what light we can forward into the darkness and the wind.”