WEST CHESTER, Pa., August 5, 2012 — Upon the death of Gore Vidal, the media rushed to observe their time-honored tradition of rummaging through the past to convey to their audience the personality, achievements, controversies, and legacy of the recently deceased. They do this with the death of any celebrity.
The national press this week characterized Vidal as an award-winning author and literary icon who was brutally candid and at times cold. Other media outlets trotted out archived video of Vidal’s infamous feuds with the likes of William F. Buckley Jr. and Norman Mailer. Still others described Vidal as a Renaissance man, having worn the many hats of author, playwright, essayist, and controversialist. Whether one liked or disliked him personally, or likes or agrees with his body of work, there is no doubt that Gore Vidal should be remembered as one of the last defenders of the American republic, an individual whose predictions may very well come to pass over time.
Vidal wrote a series of novels and essays defending our natural right to liberty and the original intent of the American republic. After the devastating attacks of September 11, many pundits fiercely advocated war and demanded that our government turn “sand into glass” in the Middle East. Vidal rose above the fray of warmongering rhetoric, quoting John Quincy Adams who said: “The United States goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”
The essayist and author recognized that America was not to become the empress of the world. He also believed that the tyranny of good intentions, as in the Patriot Act that was passed following 9/11, infringed upon our liberties, and that any last vestiges of our old republic were dead. He wrote: “Let us accept the facts staring us in the face—that demonstrably we are no longer a republic. We are no longer governed by laws, only by armed men and force. This is just like the days of Billy the Kid. You have an armed man going down a dusty street and that is authority. And it has come to this for us.”
In a series of interviews that he gave to the media, Vidal painted a picture of a bleak America. He believed Americans would face an economic collapse and depression, that our foreign adventures overseas would create more enemies, and that these circumstances would result in our liberties being further diminished. In an article for “The Nation” in 2003, Vidal quoted Benjamin Franklin to illustrate his fears that our republic would not stand the test of time: “There is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and I believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other.” Looking at the current decaying state of our natural rights and economic structure, the realization of Franklin’s (and Vidal’s) prediction seems alarmingly possible, and even probable.
Vidal’s quandary is reminiscent of the Greek mythological character Cassandra, who was granted the ability to look into the future by the Gods. Not unlike Vidal, Cassandra’s greatest blessing was her curse; for all of her foresight, she had no power to compel others to action and was forced to watch the inevitable chaos that ensued as her predictions and warnings went unheeded.
Similarly, despite Vidal’s forewarnings and the obvious accelerating disintegration of the economy and republic as a whole, the ruling class of our country continues to scoff at the suggestion of systemic collapse. Vidal believed that our nation should be dubbed the “United States of Amnesia,” a country that refuses to study and learn from the lessons of history. Still, he never relented in trying to make us remember and learn from the past, and never retreated from a fight when the cause of liberty was threatened, using his words and writings to uphold the traditions of our Founders. Gore Vidal, prolific and celebrated author, playwright, essayist, Renaissance man, and antagonist, was one of the last true defenders of our republic. He will be sorely missed.
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