History 101 - The Dream Is Dead
By John Brand, D.Min., J.D. Columnist (US)

"One age misunderstands another; and an age without vision misunderstands all others in its own nasty way." - Ludwig Wittgenstein
"When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness." - T.S. Eliot
America's problems, screaming at us from the headlines of the daily papers, are endless. What is our country's underlying disease? Is it terrorism? Is it our balance of trade deficit running into the billions? Is it a President who does not even think twice about shredding the Bill of Rights? Is it the millions upon millions whose credit card debts are staggering? Is it corporate executives who have no sense of morality? Is it the declining stock market?
None of the above are the substantive issues confronting our nation. They are merely symptomatic of our fundamental disorder. Our President desires to take our nation into a senseless war. It seems that neither he nor his clones have any real ideas about the disastrous consequences of such a venture. Yet, not even this Vietnam-like insanity is our basic problem. What is it then?
The vast majority of the people, those who govern and those who are governed, have no majestic visions of the potentials of our nation. We no longer dream the dream. We have lost the splendor of seeing our nation as a bastion of freedom. We have forfeited our inheritance of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
We crave money, power, and authority - not to see how we can use money, power, and authority to make this a great nation. No, we see these forces as ends in themselves. They have become the gods at whose feet we worship.
The love of money does seem to be the root of much evil. In 1936,when our nation was still in the midst of a backbreaking depression, President Roosevelt, in a speech to Congress, January 3, 1936 said, "We have earned the hatred of entrenched greed." Can any less be said today? The moral fiber sustaining our Ship of State is battered by the whirlwinds of avarice. The fabric of national decency is tattered and torn by the storms of a senseless - a neurotic - thrust for more and more filthy lucre in the hand of a few. Men and women possessing no sense of self-worth seek to find meaning for themselves in the size of their investment portfolios and their bank accounts. Lacking that sense of personal meaning and dignity stemming from the inner resources of one's own character, these misguided blind guides feel that too much is never enough. And so they cook books, rob millions of their investments, circumvent payment of taxes in an effort to compensate for the integrity lacking in their own personal essence. America, indeed, has inherited the evil of entrenched greed.
President Washington wrote to the President of Congress on August 16, 1777, "This matter I allude to is the exorbitant price exacted by the merchants and vendors of goods for every necessary they dispose of. I am sensible the trouble and risk in importing give the adventurers a right to a generous price, and that such, from a motive of policy should be paid but yet I cannot conceive that they, in direct violation of every principle of generosity, or reason and of justice, should be allowed, if it is possible to restrain 'em, to avail themselves of the difficulties of the times, and to amass fortunes upon the public ruin."
Can you imagine that many of those now elected to high offices or appointed to the Supreme Court would give their lives fighting for freedom for their fellow countrymen? Can you imagine that many corporate executives would pledge their fortunes to achieve liberty in the land? Can you imagine that many religious leaders - whose names are household words ö would put their honor on the line for the cause of unalienable rights? I cannot imagine that that would happen today.
Thomas Paine in "The Crisis Papers," 1783, wrote, "We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birthday of a new world is at hand, and a race of man . . . are to receive their portion of freedom from the events of a few months. The reflection is awful, and in this point of view, how trifling, how ridiculous, do the little paltry cavilings of a few weak or interested men appear, when weighed against the business of the world."
I admit I had to go to Webster to find out just what "cavilings" means. One definition is to be occupied with trivial matters. That, I believe, states our problems. Our controlling alphas are occupied with matters that to our Founding Fathers would appear petty and inconsequential. They would turn over in their graves were they to see grown businessmen worrying more about the daily value of their company's stock then providing goods and services at a fair price. They would condemn politicians selling their votes to PACs supporting them. They would throw up their hands in horror as they witness our nation seeking to impose its will on the world. Making money, the dirty side of politics, forcing others to comply with our ideas, are insignificant concerns when placed alongside the great ideals of liberty and justice.
The powers driving the Fathers to sacrifice their lives, fortunes, and honor in order to attain liberty were a profound sense of liberation from tyranny based upon the wisdom of the ages. The dream to be free is rooted and grounded in a particular understanding about the dignity of human beings. This certainly is not to claim that our forefathers had the desire to bring freedom to all living in the Colonies. Blacks, American Indians, and women were excluded from the dream. That failure stands as a permanent black mark in the annals of our nation. Yet, even with this fundamental error of judgment, the passion for freedom - at least for their fellows - sounded a clarion note throughout the world. It was an expression - an action - resonating from deep within the spirit, the heart. It is great testimony to the wisdom of the Fathers that by writing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights they enabled minorities in later generations to attain their freedom. The dream marched on!
And that desire, that ideal, that transcendent value of liberty sustained the Fathers in the bitter circumstances at Valley Forge. Ideas, hopes, and beliefs in the rights won at Runnymede surged through their veins. Whatever actions ensued were the consequences of the commitment to those fundamental values. The sense of "becoming" and not of "having become" was the wind in the sails of the Ship of State. We were in the processes - on the road - of reaching toward the ideal that "all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." There was never any indication that by declaring liberty throughout the land that the implementation of these ideals had already been accomplished.
And not only had they not been attained then - they are not a fact today. What then is the difference between the mental perception of the Fathers and our own? The Fathers believed that their ideals were becoming. We believe that we are a nation that has already become! When a civilization's ethos implies that it has become - has arrived, has achieved - then dreams fade into dogmatism. Horizons disappear and become boundaries. Visions vanish and doctrine dominates.
Wisdom has given way to feverish activity. We embrace the belief that America has fulfilled its dream. And so we seek to impose our assumed superiority on the rest of the world. Not only that, the dogmatic leaders of our nation try to impose their will on everyone within the nation. We mistakenly assume that flexing our muscle, imposing our will on one and all, dispatching military forces all over the globe, is evidence of the assumption that our destiny has been fulfilled.
No longer do "old man dream dreams, and young men see visions." (Joel 2:28) Old men try to force everyone into the mold of their own self-image. Young men, devoid of visions, organize dot-coms. Vision has been replaced with sheer activity. The organic, the flowing, the growing, and the vital heartbeat have been replaced with the mechanical, the numbers, the systems, and the cold harshness of laws. There is no sense of history only a sense of conquest. There is no sense of mobility, of change, of transformation, and of nurture of the humane spirit. Metamorphosis has ceased. All effort, all attention, all resources are devoted to spreading a lifeless form. The present point, the immediate needs, become all consuming. The dream has died.
There is much activity but little wisdom. There is much physical exertion but little insight. When there are no dreams, there is no greatness. And all the grubbing has gone for nothing. What does the future hold for a nation so degenerate that profits are more important than people, money more important than morals, stock options more important than a social conscience?
Oswald Spengler paints the picture for us in his monumental work, <>"The Decline of the West." Spengler proposed that once a people become strong enough to form a state, they develop a "culture." A culture is driven by moral values and ethical concerns. A culture is bursting with creativity, with a sense of becoming, but never with the feeling that it has become. In the midst of this excitement of nurturing a tender plant, there comes a time when the interests of the culture shift from conceptual values to materialistic benefits. Spengler calls that state a "civilization." He describes the last days of Rome when it had degenerated into a mere civilization and had ceased being a culture with these words.
"Romans were barbarians who did not precede but closed a great development. Unspiritual, unphilosophical, devoid of art, clannish to the point of brutality, aiming relentlessly at tangible success, they stand between the Hellenic culture and nothingness." The fall of Rome ushered in 400 years of Dark Ages throughout Europe. Spengler continues by saying that the Greek soul had given way to Roman intellect and that this is the difference between a culture and a civilization. "Again and again there appears this type of strong-minded, completely non-metaphysical man and in the hands of this type lies the intellectual and material destiny of each and every 'late' period." Spengler wrote this in 1917. How could he foresee the pervasive deadening force of materialism destroying our nation?
Jefferson's simple words, "The whole of government consists in the art of being honest" have been lost in the insane striving for personal aggrandizement and power. Our Vice President will not reveal any details of the group that met to discuss an energy plan for the United States. It does not take an Einstein to realize that we are dependent on foreign oil. Alternative sources of energy are all around us. Thermal heat, the solar atomic furnace, blowing winds, motions of tides and waves contain enough energy to drive our world until the sun fails to shine - possibly four to six billion years into the future. But the commitment of our leaders is to oil and gas. And so we are engaged in wars, in subversive activities, in effective economic suicide and continue chanting the oil and gas mantra. I do not know the place or the time when so many of our leaders had their blood replaced with sour crude now surging through their veins. They do not think of energy as being the lifeblood of a nation. They only think, oil, oil, and more oil.
A nation that has traded its birth right for stock portfolios and bank accounts has lost its thrust to search for avenues of greatness. It can no loner support differing points of view, critiques of its programs, and objections to its expansionary goals. These words taken from a letter Jefferson wrote to Dr. Benjamin Rush in 1800 are incised on the walls of the Jefferson Memorial. "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Jefferson had no tolerance for the suppression of anyone's opinion. To his nephew Peter Carr he wrote in a letter dated August 10, 1787, "Shake off all the fears of servile prejudices, under which weak minds servilely crouched. Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call on her tribunal for every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God, because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfold fear."
Now we have members of our President's staff suggesting that criticism of any program, any idea, or any law stemming from the President's brow is an unpatriotic act. This man and most of his entourage, by inference, claim to possess absolute truth about all things. Unilaterally he declared international accords null and void. He forced through Congress a bill giving him unlimited trading powers. He proclaimed that we are at war but only Congress can declare war. The word on the street is that if anyone dares to oppose the President, the challenger is unpatriotic.
Free exchange of ideas concerning their dogmas is not tolerated. They are so impressed about the absolute correctness in their beliefs and actions that they seek to institute a national network of informers. The UPS or FedEx deliveryman, the postman on his or her appointed rounds, or a neighbor are encouraged to report miscreants to the Vaterland Security Office. The dream is dead.
President Eisenhower speaking at the Columbia University bicentennial dinner on May 31, 1954, said, "Without exhaustive debate, even heated debate, of ideas and programs, free government would weaken and wither. But if we allow ourselves to be persuaded that every individual or party that takes issue with our own convictions is necessarily wicked or treasonous, then, indeed, we are approaching the end of freedom's road."
Professor Marvin Olasky, School of Journalism, The University of Texas, is the author of the program embraced by President Bush making religion a partner with government. To Baron von Humboldt in 1813, Jefferson wrote, "History, I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose." And to C. Clay in 1815, Jefferson wrote, "This loathsome combination of Church and State." And yet it is such a loathsome combination that Bush et al seek to impose upon our nation.
The destructive symptoms in our society are not primarily the result of foreign agents or terrorists. Forsaken ideals and lost expectations generate the destructive miasma of chaos in the land. In vain do we look for healing balms to the gods of Mammon, the PACs, and international entanglements.
The dream is dead! That is America's problem. All else is a nightmare resulting from the death of the dream.
John Brand is a Purple Heart, Combat Infantry veteran of World War II. He received his Juris Doctor degree at Northwestern University and a Master of Theology and a Doctor of Ministry at Southern Methodist University. He served as a Methodist minister for 19 years, was Vice President, Birkman & Associates, Industrial Psychologists, and concluded his career as Director, Organizational and Human Resources, Warren-King Enterprises, an independent oil and gas company. He is the author of <>"Shaking the Foundations."


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