By Olivia Pierson
[First published on Incite 21/12/18]
"I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain."
[John Adams to Abigail Adams, May 1780]
In this letter to his wife, Abigail, Adams laid out a certain wisdom about a generational structure unfolding. Being one of America’s Founding Fathers and also a signatory to the Declaration of Independence, which brought about an unprecedented war with the British empire, Adams looked far down the road with optimism as he imagined the pursuits of his unborn grandchildren.
His own generation, the Revolutionary Generation, after they had won the war of Independence, had to concern themselves with laying down a proper foundation on which to build their nation’s security around the Constitution and Bill of Rights. This defined and underscored American nationhood, thus setting the parameters of what being ‘an American’ would mean.
With this security and political system well safeguarded, the next generation had then to concern itself with building sound institutions of learning, along with commercial infrastructures to advance the benefits of nationhood through practical work, trade and intellectual development.
The generation after, being born into well-established security, sound institutions of learning and perhaps wealth, would have the luxurious freedom of pursuing aesthetics, architecture and cultural achievements, stamping their own personal signatures on the ultimate character of the nation their forebears had procured for them.
Adams’ grandchildren lived through the years known in American history as the Era of Good Feelings which was marked by national cohesion with a strong sense of goodwill in the American identity and way of life. But beneath the surface of that reality, a political storm was quietly brewing, resulting in the American Civil War. Adams’ great-grandson, John Quincy Adams II, served in the Civil War as a colonel on the Union side, thus showing us that, once again, ‘politics and war’ become a general concern with a repetitive and almost cyclical predictability over 4 – 5 generations.
To bring this point home, my great uncles served in WWI, all of them returning from Passchendaele maimed but healthy enough to smoke cigarettes and drink their daily flagons of beer into the 1980s. Because they were all wounded in the Great War, they did not serve in WWII some twenty years later. My own father, their nephew, born in 1939, became a naval officer in the Royal New Zealand Navy. He studied electrical engineering and navigation but lived in a time of peace and never saw war. To hear Dad speak about his time in Dartmouth and Greenwich, England, most of his enthusiastic memories are around cricket and rugby games played all over the United Kingdom and of long voyages abroad to keep a military presence and to maintain a peace which his generation had not had to go out and win. I’ve never seen war. My own children are all pursuing their various careers and have also never seen war – yet. But it feels to me as though we are all riding on the efforts of the generations who came before us, coupled with the strength of what Western democracies have shown themselves to be: monumentally stable and peace-loving, which is what our recent ancestors fought for them to be.
Despite this, there is something brewing as we speak, and many of us feel as if we are about to watch the Western world descend into another cyclical crisis. That’s not an admission of any kind of determinism that such cycles are an absolute requirement in essence; they’re not. Crises happen because we get to a point in civilisation where several generations are so busy living, begetting, transacting, pursuing happiness and enjoying the offerings of peace, that we fail to pay sufficient attention to issues which may pose a threat, until these reach a crescendo which forces us to refocus our attention with some urgency on our wider values.
There are many factors at work at the moment which are provoking instability and may lead to a crisis point, such as:
But perhaps the most dangerous factor that may lead us into a crisis is the apathetic outlook of three generations of voters who have utterly no idea how we ever came to inherit a remarkable civilisation where freedom, peace and tolerance are the absolute norms under which we live. Ironically, by far the most lethal ingredient of our era - the Information Age - is sheer ignorance.
The battle has become, once again, a battle for the foundational security of nation-states against over-reaching globalist powers which seek to lord it over individual nations in the manner of authoritarian empires: Iran, China, Russia, Jihadists of every stripe, North Korea, the European Union and the United Nations. The greatest foe that all these despots currently face is America’s 45th president, who has had to shift his focus from building hotels and skyscrapers to studying politics and war, so that his great-grandchildren may inherit a free and flourishing country, as he did in his youth.
If you enjoyed this article, please buy my book "Western Values Defended: A Primer"
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