Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis

When the ghosts come out to taunt you and dance a jig on your tombstone, hopefully you’re not there. There was a time, in the words of Hunter S. Thompson, when it felt wrong and on a good day you could get paid to be wrong. Manifest Destiny was on your side. These days, it’s like re-watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Somewhere, along the way, after all the excitement and adventure, the Ark of the Covenant got lost. They tagged it for inventory and wheeled it off for storage in some anonymous government warehouse. And that’s when it hits you. The bureaucrats and accountants have won. You’ve grown up and they’ve won.

It’s like going back to one of your favorite haunts from the past and finding it under new management. They’ve redecorated, something to do with a cultural revolution or the curious ascendance of Shelob, but, damn it all, nobody knows where a bunch of high-altitude aerials of the San Francisco Bay and salt flats shot by a descendant of Mirabeau Buonaparte Lamar, one-time President of the Republic of Texas, can be found.

Even if you did read Alexis de Tocqueville’s “De la Democratie en Amerique,” predicting the rise to power of complacent mediocrity, you never were quite prepared for the inevitability of the sock puppet figure bearing the title of Commander in Chief of the Greatest Power in the Free World, the man who happened to sit on the winning lottery number, but gradually came to believe himself to be solely responsible for the country’s success. If a doubt ever plagued his mind regarding this success or his competence to be where he was, he consoled himself with the thought that "God was on his side."

"Disciplina Praesidium Civitatis,"translates, "A cultivated mind is the guardian genius of democracy," M B Lamar, in a speech to Congress.

2 comments:

Bill said...

Sorry to lower this rather intellectual post, but....

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, I thought they put it in the warehouse to hide it from the world and to purposely "lose" it...

Nathalie said...

Could be I missed that angle. I always remembered it as this classic, ironic anti-climax. Maybe I'll have to re-watch!