Bill Clinton’s favorite undergraduate professor at Georgetown was a man named Carroll Quigley. A noted author, historian and political theorist, Dr. Quigley was best known in his day for writing “The Evolution of Civilizations,” a scientific analysis of how civilizations rise and fall dependent upon “instruments of growth,” the degree to which a given civilization can productively provide for its citizens and allow for expansion.
Quigley was no conservative — many suspected him of being a communist — but he did write of America’s greatness and further explained that what made America great was the willingness of each generation to sacrifice for the next. He coined the term future preference and warned that, “One thing will kill our civilization and our way of life and that is when people no longer have the will to undergo the pain required to prefer the future to the present.”
Of the eventual killing of our American civilization, it’s important to note that Quigley did not preface the verb kill with may or could. He wrote “will.”
Even without knowledge of Quigley’s writing, most Americans are familiar with the notion of future preference. Our history is one of sacrificing for the promise of brighter tomorrows. From George Washington and the barefoot revolutionaries who fought at his side to give us a nation, to Manifest Destiny, when American pioneers struck West, choosing hard prairie lives to claim land of their own so that they could pass it on to their children, to Gettysburg, to Normandy, to war rationing, to the firemen charging up the staircases of the World Trade Center, and on, and on, future preference is not merely our history. It is our culture. It is our poetry and pageantry. It is the very substance of our nation’s anthem.
Yet here we are: $14 trillion in hock with no hint of tightening the federal purse strings. We’re purchasing our own debt. We’re spending wealth that has yet to be created. And just as the largest single demographic group in America is about to retire en masse, what do we do? We sign into law the single most expensive entitlement in our nation’s history, passing an unpayable bill onto the next generation.
If there is a greater sign of the abandonment of future preference, I can’t think of one. We have reached Quigley’s kill point, and the Baby Boomers have led the way — the Me Generation to the bitter, miserable end.
The late, great George Carlin once observed that the essence of the Baby Boomer generation could be encapsulated by a very simple motto. Then, after a trademark pause, the stand-up legend shrieked into the microphone, “Gimme it! It’s mine!”
No rational person can look at Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare and actually believe that these programs can be funded for 50 more years. Yet there isn’t a substantive movement from either political party’s leadership to stop them.
Our debt is skyrocketing along with the size of our government. That pair of problems is a recipe for disaster, and our leaders are positioning themselves for next year’s elections. It’s staggering to consider that, after beating back fascism, communism and Islamic terrorism, America may never recover from the Baby Boomers.
The last of the Greatest Generation is fast dying off. As they go, it might be helpful to consider what made them great. It wasn’t just that they made it through the Depression. It wasn’t even their triumph over the Nazis. It was the decisions they made along the way — what they sacrificed, risked and endured to preserve the American Dream.
So what of their children? Where is that blood, that vigor, that self-mastery and sacrifice today?
It is not too late for a remedy, but that hour is nigh. Quigley was correct. It is a question of preference: the future or the present. At the moment, the Baby Boomers are scarfing down every last crumb of the American pie and asking for seconds. As a member of Generation X, I can only marvel at the shamelessness.
Yates Walker is a conservative activist and writer. Before becoming involved in politics, he served honorably as a paratrooper and a medic in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.