Here it is, at long last, the day the Mayan calendar runs out according to popular culture. Browsing Netflix will show just how popular this idea of the end of time is as documentaries on the “2012 Apocalypse” abound. The viewpoint expressed in these and countless online articles on the same subject is that the material world, and human civilization with it, will be destroyed.
Fun stuff. Wrong, but fun in a strange way.
But what if there is an end to things that is, in fact, approaching in a much quieter, more insidious way? What if the 2012 apocalypse is not characterized by physical destruction but by cultural, political, and social destruction?
To answer, it is necessary to think a little about history. Americans are not known for their willingness or ability to think about the past, but the old saw is right — those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.
We live in an age that began to take shape 600 years ago. The Renaissance burst upon the Medieval scene after scholars, artists, engineers and businessmen started to recover lost knowledge and to chafe against political strictures of the previous age. The rise of independent city states in a politically fractured Italian peninsula came concomitantly with the advance of individual art and science and scholarship. It was a brilliant period that witnessed the first flower of liberty that the West had seen in centuries.
Since the Renaissance, the West began to develop the philosophical ideas that would underscore the growth of freedom, both as a political ideal and as embodied in legal doctrine. Ultimately, the feudal past was displaced by the modern, individualist present, culminating in the ultimate achievement by America’s founders who attempted to build a government expressly designed to protect the rights of a free people.
This age has truly been a golden one. As tyranny diminished and individual freedom flourished, so to did the arts and sciences continue to advance, at an increasingly rapid rate. The human species flourished, population soared, production of goods and services advanced at a stunning rate and new inventions came ever faster. Who now can think of life without modern transportation, television, radio, the Internet, mobile phones, iPads, or even refrigeration. Just 100 years ago, most of these things were not only unheard of, but undreamt.
What if the basic foundations of this age were now to crumble? What if the apocalypse of 2012 is really the nadir of the individual and the rebirth of feudal tyranny with a modern twist?
Time was, the old serf owned nothing. He and his family tilled land that was not his, grew a meager harvest that he owed to his lord. He could not leave. He had no rights to speak of. He was, in the words of Article three of “The Twelve Articles of the Upper Swabian Peasants,” customarily “regarded as a lord’s personal property.”
We are returning to this system. The citizen is increasingly a serf. In today’s America, we can be indefinitely detained, we must allow agents of the state to irradiate us and search us if we choose to travel. Our cities watch our every move with security cameras and license plate readers. We cannot own our own plots of land outright without, like the medieval serf, delivering some of the value of that land to the state lord each year. The lord even decrees that up to half of all that we produce be turned over each year.
And there is no escape. If you are an American citizen, once upon a time a creature that enjoyed a uniquely free existence, you are essentially owned by the government, as Laura Saunders explained in the Wall Street Journal.
“The U.S.,” Saunders observed, “is highly unusual in that it imposes taxes on ‘world-wide’ income, which includes international as well as domestic earnings, no matter where you live…. That means any U.S. citizen or resident with earnings abroad owes U.S. taxes on the income even if the money stays overseas. Most other countries don’t tax earnings from abroad….”
The federal overlord owns you, no matter where you go.
Similar repulsive things are happening at lower levels of the American feudal system. New Jersey, for instance, has an exit tax that penalizes people who move from the state. According to Leslie Kwoh of the Newark Star-Ledger, online critics refer to this exit tax as “‘a kick in the pants seat on your way out’ of New Jersey.”
Like all “good” totalitarian laws, this one is vague and little understood, meaning it can be used by the lord of the state to oppress serfs in potentially creative ways.
Kwoh asked James Hay, a real estate attorney in New Jersey, for his take on the law. In response he said he has to check the law monthly. “They keep revising it. It’s scary,” he said.
This is the new serfdom, the new feudalism. And like a cancer it is festering and growing, metastasizing throughout the Western world. As it grows it squeezes out the healthy tissue of the body politic, strangling it, and eventually, if not treated, it will cause the death of the free world.
When the state owns you, can extract whatever it wants from you, can watch and control your movements, what then motivates you to work productively, to invent, and to innovate? The state will take from you half of what you produce, maybe more. What incentive is there to work?
Why travel? As the state lord makes travel more difficult, more obnoxious, why not just stay at home, on the land the state allows you to temporarily live upon? If fewer people travel, fewer ideas will be shared among diverse groups. Fewer new ideas will appear. And as the lord regulates more and more, it will be less attractive to use those new ideas to provide new and better products and services. The economy will decline. Ever larger numbers of serfs will be impoverished.
Finally there will be a new darkness. A protected political class will live in bright, shining luxury, while billions suffer, and billions more die of malnutrition, exposure, and disease.
This is the real 2012 apocalypse. It is the triumph of the new feudalism and the demise of liberty and individualism. If it is allowed to unfold, if the cancer is not stopped, the end of human liberty will be the greatest tragedy the world has ever seen.
The golden age will have been lost forever.
The Moral Liberal Associate Editor, Dennis Behreandt, is the Founder and Editor In Chief of the American Daily Herald. Mr. Behreandt has written hundreds of articles on subjects ranging from natural theology to history and from science and technology to philosophy. His research interests include the period of late antiquity in European history as well as Medieval and Renaissance history.