- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2004

The following text is a transcript of portions of a speech given on Feb. 12 by author Os Guinness in the Longworth House Office Building. His talk was part of a lecture series titled “Contours of a Christian Worldview,” sponsored by Faith and Law on Capitol Hill and the Wilberforce Forum in Reston.

Since 9/11, one of the phrases I’ve heard most in this city is that “The United States is the greatest power on earth, since the collapse of Rome.” … It’s often said that Roman history can be reduced to two stories of the Scipio family. And the second of them directly relates to what I want to say today.

It’s the famous story of the siege of Carthage. When Alexander the Great died and a huge vacuum was opened in the Mediterranean world, the question was which power would fill it? The showdown was between a North African power, Carthage, and an emerging city-state in Italy called Rome. … Twice they fought, and twice Rome won, but rather luckily. The Third Great Punic War was clearly the showdown. For 10 years, Rome debated, “Should they destroy Carthage?” Cato [the Elder], on one side, ended every speech for 10 years with a line, “Carthage must be destroyed.”

The other side was led by Scipio Emilianus, the adopted grandson of the great Scipio Africanus. He said, “No, leave Carthage standing to brace us and keep us vigilant.” The first side won the argument. The second side had the general who led the war.

When they defeated Carthage in 146 [B.C.], and eventually they flattened it and sowed salt in it so it never would arise again, Scipio set fire to Carthage, and as the flames were looking up, all over this great capital city, he was seen to be weeping. Some people wondered, how extraordinary that a Roman general would disagree with his nation’s policy so much that he’d cry. He said, “Of course not, of course not; today, we set fire to Carthage. One day, someone will set fire to Rome.”

The Framers knew that story very well. … I wonder if you saw the statuary of Marx, Lenin and Stalin, and then more recently Saddam Hussein? Were there any American leaders who had the wisdom of history and humility to look into that toppling statuary and realize we, too, will pass? Scipio didn’t need a slave to whisper those words in his ear.

I start there because the Framers [of the U.S. Constitution] knew that story. More importantly, they knew the man who was standing beside Scipio, who was his moral tutor, Polybius. They ransacked his ideas in order to answer what is the deepest question of the [American] Revolution. “Can you create a free republic that will remain free?” …

Many people dismiss this question because it’s about the past. No it isn’t; it’s about the future. It’s not an antiquarian question. It’s actually a question that concerns every liberal-minded person concerned with the future. That’s the question our generation is tackling. …

For the Framers there were three tasks that were obvious to a free society. The first two are obvious, [the American Revolution and the U.S. Constitution]. The third one is missing today … sustaining freedom … what Lincoln called “perpetuating our institutions.” It’s a constant stress to this generation because of its prosperity, its power and its dominance. … We are the generation challenged to sustain it in our time.

Success is never forever … the Framers knew that. … They ransacked history, to use history, to defy history. They weren’t just revolutionary. They were rooted. They knew their history in a way many modern political leaders to their shame don’t. … If you have a corruption of customs … the Constitution itself will be subverted. … People will follow the same laws, but with a different rationale, and you’ll see a steady decline.

What was the Framers’ solution to this? Many people think it’s the [U.S.] Constitution and law. It isn’t. That’s only half the answer. The other half is quite clear … and incredibly overlooked today, even among scholars. It’s what I call the “Little Triangle of Assumptions.” …

It is so obvious in the Framers if you read their writings. It’s like going to Switzerland and missing the Alps. … First, freedom requires virtue. … If freedom has to be guarded by laws, it will eventually be lost. … Secondly, virtue requires faith of some sort. … This is the simple reason that the Framers argued there should be religious liberty. … [Third], faith requires freedom. … If that triangle is perpetual, then freedom has a chance of defying the odds and keeping alive.

The order of faith and freedom is critical to the United States … it supplies vitality. … We have three massive contemporary menaces to faith and freedom. … If the Framers were correct … those menaces will eventually affect the system and freedom will not survive. …

[First] you can see [that] many people in the leadership of ideas and opinion-shaping today no longer understand … what the Framers set up. [They think] faith, character and virtue are fine if you want them. … The public square is a neutral arena of competing self-interests, and faith and character and virtue are irrelevant. The more radical version of this is postmodernism. In this reading, faith and character and virtue are not just private; they are the masks behind which the power games go on. …

The second contemporary menace is a breakdown in the transmission of values. … The third is … a corruption of customs. Since the 1960s, various foundational assumptions in this country … have been profoundly eroded or under assault. What’s life? Is there such a thing as truth? What’s a family? What’s a marriage? What’s justice more than power? …

America is seeing a tilt of freedom towards evil. … If not reversed, your children and grandchildren will experience the consequences. … No great civilization survives if it cuts its relations to its roots. We are on the edge of doing that. … As faith goes, so goes freedom. As freedom goes … so goes the United States.

Are we beyond the point of hope? I’m personally an optimist. Things are not nearly as bad here as they have been in times past, and they have been turned around. …

When faith went in [Germany], it produced the most horrendous evil the world’s ever seen. … I wouldn’t bet that we are yet to see an American evil of monumental proportions unless there’s a turning back. … You cannot, sort of King Knute-like, use law to hold back a moral landslide. It simply won’t do it. You’ll just add to the laws. You’ve got to rejuvenate the culture.

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