On the Continuance of Civilization or Why Nations Fail


“Ideals and beliefs determine the whole course of society. When there has been failure it has meant that there was no longer sacrifice made to secure success. Selfishness defeated itself. That has been the malady of every empire that has fallen, from Babylon to Russia. Where there has been success it has meant that there sacrifice has prevailed. That has been the salvation of every people, from early civilization to the present day. America was laid in the sacrifices of Pilgrim and Puritan and the colonists of that day. It was defended by the sacrifices of the Revolutionary period. It was made all free by the sacrifices of those who followed Lincoln, and insured by all who accept him. It was saved by the sacrifices of the World War.

“These are the great charities of man on which civilization has rested. They cannot be administered by government. They come from the heart of the people or they do not come at all. They are for the redemption of man. There is no other. Civilization is always on trial, testing out, not the power of material resources, but whether there be, in the heart of the people, that virtue and character which come from charity sufficient to maintain progress. When that charity fails, civilization, though it ‘speak with the tongues of men and of angels,’ is ‘becoming as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal.’ Its glory has departed. Its spirit has gone out. Its life is done” — Calvin Coolidge, The Power of the Moral Law, address at the Community-Chest Dinner, Springfield, Massachusetts, October 11, 1921.

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