Garet Garrett on The Decline of the American Republic
A reprint of a Garet Garrett article first published in 1952 in the Freeman on how a republic becomes an empire . . .
We have crossed the boundary that lies between Republic and Empire. If you ask when, the answer is that you cannot make a single stroke between day and night. The precise moment does not matter. There was no painted sign to say, "You now are entering Imperium." Yet it was a very old road and the voice of history was saying: "Whether you know it or not, the act of crossing may be irreversible." And now, not far ahead, is a sign that reads: "No U Turns."
If you say there were no frightening omens, that is true. The political foundations did not quake; the graves of the Fathers did not fly open; the Constitution did not tear itself up. If you say people did not will it, that also is true. But if you say therefore it has not happened, then you have been so long bemused by words that your mind will not believe what the eye can see, even as in the jungle the terrified primitive, on meeting the lion, importunes magic by saying to himself, "He is not there." That a republic may vanish is an elementary schoolbook fact.
Let it be current history. How much does the younger half of this generation reflect upon the fact that in its own time a complete revolution has taken place in the relations between government and people? It may be doubted that one college student in a thousand could even state it clearly. The first article of our inherited tradition, implicit in American thought from the beginning until a few years ago, was this: Government is the responsibility of a self-governing people. That doctrine has been swept away; only the elders remember it.
Now, in the name of democracy, it is accepted as a political fact that people are the responsibility of government. The forms of republican government survive; the character of the state has changed. Formerly the people supported government and set limits to it and minded their own lives.