The constellation Virgo was important to America’s founders. The cornerstone ceremonies of the Freemasons were apparently timed with this in mind. There is a paraphrase of Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue’s new age, “novus ordo saeclorum,” inscribed in the Great Seal of the United States. This refers to “Astraea, the virgin goddess of justice, (who) was the last of the immortals to quit the earth at the end of the constellation Virgo. Throughout the Renaissance…she was associated, on the one hand, with the revival of the Roman Empire and…through Virgil, (she) came to be linked with both letters and empire.” Virgil “identified the new age with the Augustan peace, (but) Christian readers, beginning…with the emperor Constantine himself, saw in the Fourth Eclogue a prophecy of Christ’s birth, made the more convincing by the Virgo easily (related) to the Virgin Mary. In the Renaissance, these Christian meanings buttressed a renewed emphasis on Astraea’s imperial associations, as the French and English monarchies annexed her as a symbol of their claims to inherit the mantle of Rome.”
But the fear that America’s founders were really only interested in empire is not new. What is not clear is whether Americans believe the rise of empire is merely something that might happen in the future. I think this must be the case. There are a lot of Americans who still believe their vote counts, or they did before the last couple of elections. There are countless people on television and the Internet acting as though political candidates matter, elections matter, betrayals of the people’s trust matter.
But then issues of trust would be important in an empire as well. There have been benevolent emperors with prosperous, peaceful reigns. The Emperor Franz Josef of Austria was that kind of emperor. There is nothing in the definition of Empire that dictates injustice, economic collapse, and cynical profiteering. The question of whether we have a viable democracy is only important in this context. Once an empire sinks so low, who can keep it from pillaging the countryside?
Sociologist Wayne Baker observed that Americans hold traditional views similar to third world countries, although America is considered a developed nation similar to western European nations. But then he adds that these views are to be expected in third world countries because of their economic and political turmoil—the traditional, conservative outlook is a natural outcome of the overriding importance of survival in such conditions.
This comparison makes sense on the surface. It brings to mind dictators who have been in the news, maybe wars and revolutions in South America. Of course the United States is nothing like that, is it? But the U.S. has had economic turmoil and war, even though lately the wars have been overseas. In American history, industrial interests have been guilty of third world tactics, shamelessly oppressing workers. In addition, big business interests have always had close associations with government. Americans have endured cycles where the loss of family farms was rampant. Recently, wealthy farmers who benefited from the loss of these family farms have dictated the country’s estate tax policy. Today, the current cycle of crisis is merely continuing the destruction of the economic prospects of American families and is accompanied by political disappointment and disillusionment. Yet Baker associates Americans with Europeans rather than with the people of any of the third world countries, saying that our social and political values make us an “outlier” in his analysis.
In Mike Stathis’ analysis in his book “America’s Healthcare Solution.” he mentions the waste, fraud and bribery in the nation’s healthcare system, and then offers solutions. But one wonders how the same people who could create such problems, and even perpetuate them, would be willing or able to fix them. Profit has eroded even issues of life and death, finally corrupting the caregivers who have sworn an oath to protect life.
If political power is to be measured by the degree of injustice rulers can inflict with impunity, then we are talking about something else entirely than the difference between democracy and empire. We are talking about criminal behavior. But then everyone knows people should have gone to jail as a result of this recession, and that they never will.
Stefan Zweig called the fascists of early twentieth century Europe politically insane. Today it seems that even Americans who try to address the problems may be politically schizophrenic, not knowing to whom they are speaking or which issues are priorities. Political schizophrenia seems to be as hereditary as the other kind—apparently we got it from our Judeo-Christian forefathers, who deliberately associated Astraea, pagan goddess of the Roman Empire, with the Virgin Mary.
1. Ovason, David. The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital: the Masons and the building of Washington D.C. Century Books, Ltd. London. 1999
2. Zweig, Stefan. The World of Yesterday. Cassell and Co. Ltd. London, Toronto, Melbourne and Sydney. 1947
3. Wine, Kathleen. Forgotten Virgo: humanism and absolutism in Honore’ d’Urfe’s ‘L’Astre’e’. Librairie Droz S.A. Geneve. 2000