America feels a little bit like pre-revolutionary France these days.
Many of its streets are filled with race-related street protests, sometimes turning violent and engaging in wonton destruction of property. Both the police and the populace are increasingly and ever more formidably armed.
The leader and his administration are unpopular and distrusted, but claim ever broader executive power. Our politics appear dysfunctional.
The nation's enemies are on the rise. Its alliances are frayed, some near the breaking point.
The national debt exceeds a mind-boggling $18 trillion. Government at all levels sags under the weight of entitlement and pension obligations it cannot meet, but which cannibalize funds for other purposes.
The percentage of people working is alarmingly low, and wages are largely stagnant. The numbers who depend on some form of increasingly unsustainable government assistance are frighteningly high.
On one news channel you hear conservative Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions lament our porous-to-the-point-of-non-existent borders and the president's recent decree of amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants. On another you hear populist-to-the-point-of-collectivist Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren railing about income inequality and the evils of Wall Street.
Our amusements are more vulgar than ever, our sports are corrupted or tainted in important respects and our authority figures and institutions are undermined rather than respected. Our technology has outstripped our ethics and expedience has replaced our morality.
Then, amid all this turmoil, Great Britain's Duke and Duchess of Cambridge -- William and Kate -- alight onto the American stage. To many small "d" democrats and small "r" republicans, this royal couple is an expensive and offensive anachronism.
To others, however, their visit has been a welcome distraction from the seemingly awful everything else and a much needed reminder of how we have trod history's path to reach the present point -- or precipice. It can also serve as a warning of sorts about what could loom just over the horizon.
Beholding the beautiful Kate amid all our country's current turmoil, one recalls the proto-conservative and arch anti-revolutionary Edmund Burke's 1790 description of Marie Antoinette and the ills her mistreatment (and ultimate execution) foretold for the future of France and Europe. Burke wrote:
"It is now sixteen or seventeen years since I saw the Queen of France, then the Dauphiness, at Versailles; and surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon, decorating and cheering the elevated sphere she had just begun to move in, glittering like the morning star full of life and splendor and joy.
"Oh, what a revolution! and what a heart must I have, to contemplate without emotion that elevation and that fall! Little did I dream, when she added titles of veneration to those of enthusiastic, distant, respectful love, that she should ever be obliged to carry the sharp antidote against disgrace concealed in that bosom; little did I dream that I should have lived to see such disasters fallen upon her, in a nation of gallant men, in a nation of men of honor, and of cavaliers! I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards, to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult.
"But the age of chivalry is gone; that of sophisters, economists, and calculators has succeeded, and the glory of Europe is extinguished forever."
In his excellent recent book about The Great Debate between the conservative Burke and the radical Thomas Paine, writer Yuval Levin notes, "The sheer floridity of this passage was bound to draw scorn, and it immediately did." But Burke's "grand romantic paean" was in service of a bigger point.
He was defending what Levin describes as "an entire system of morals, habits, and practices [that] had arisen to support the sentiments friendly to society." The revolutionaries were attempting "to overthrow that system," "eviscerate those sentiments," and "thereby endanger social peace and individual security."
Burke's defense failed in France, of course, where revolutionaries proceeded to a bloody Terror that ultimately produced Napoleon and engulfed the entire continent in war. It succeeded to some extent elsewhere, however, as evidenced by England's relative stability, resilience, and, indeed, the recent royal visit.
The great debate goes on, however. Levin posits that the origins and essential natures of America's modern conservative versus liberal politics can be found and explained in the political and philosophical writings of Burke, for the right, and Paine, for the left.
If you seek a holiday gift for a thoughtful person who is interested in politics and concerned about our country's future you can hardly do better than Levin's balanced, instructive, and thought-provoking book. In the meantime, let us hope and pray that any similarities between modern American and pre-revolutionary France are only superficial and temporary.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.