When in Detroit, Do Like the Romans
For as long as I can remember, it's been common for Objectivists, and for many commentators on the right, to speculate that we're headed toward the same fate as ancient Rome. Just recently, libertarian-conservative columnist (and Objectivist sympathizer) John Stossel asked, "Are We Rome Yet?"
"Unfortunately, the fall of Rome is a pattern repeated by empires throughout history...including ours? A group of libertarians gathered in Las Vegas recently for an event called 'FreedomFest.' We debated whether America will soon fall, as Rome did."
These sorts of predictions tend to be overblown. We're not there yet, not by a long shot.
Except in Detroit.
In Detroit, thanks to a concentrated dose of the pathologies of the left, all of our dark imaginings about the collapse of civilization into a new Dark Age have pretty much come true—locally.
I thought about that while looking through an exhibit from a French photographer of the "Ruins of Detroit." It's not just the ruined state of the buildings in Detroit's ravaged city center. It's their former grandeur: the vast, opulent ballrooms, giant neo-Classical hotels, the classrooms and libraries with books and pianos strewn about, as abandoned as the cultural achievements they represent. This must be what Rome looked like circa 600 AD.
I was particularly struck by the second-to-last photo, which shows the vast, ornate ceiling of the erstwhile Michigan Theater, under which there are now stripped brick walls and a bare concrete floor with a van parked in the middle of it.
It reminds me of the stories about how the Roman Pantheon came to be used as a barn for cows. This must be the 21st-century equivalent: an opulent theater converted into a parking garage.
Detroit is not a harbinger of what is happening everywhere else—but it is a warning of what can happen if we go all the way down the road of statism. And perhaps that is the best redevelopment plant for Detroit: convert it into a post-apocalyptic theme park meant to warn the rest of us about what happens when a great civilization grows decadent.
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