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The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Volume 1   By: (1842-1914?)

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First Page:

THE COLLECTED WORKS OF

AMBROSE BIERCE

VOLUME 1

1909

CONTENTS

ASHES OF THE BEACON

THE LAND BEYOND THE BLOW THITHER SONS OF THE FAIR STAR AN INTERVIEW WITH GNARMAG ZOTE THE TAMTONIANS MAROONED ON UG THE DOG IN GANGEWAG A CONFLAGRATION IN GHARGAROO AN EXECUTION IN BATRUGIA THE JUMJUM OF GOKEETLE GUK THE KINGDOM OF TORTIRRA HITHER

FOR THE AHKOOND

JOHN SMITH, LIBERATOR

BITS OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY ON A MOUNTAIN WHAT I SAW OF SHILOH A LITTLE OF CHICKAMAUCA THE CRIME AT PICKETT'S MILL FOUR DAYS IN DIXIE WHAT OCCURRED AT FRANKLIN 'WAY DOWN IN ALABAM' WORKING FOR AN EMPRESS ACROSS THE PLAINS THE MIRAGE A SOLE SURVIVOR

ASHES OF THE BEACON

ASHES OF THE BEACON

AN HISTORICAL MONOGRAPH WRITTEN IN 4930

Of the many causes that conspired to bring about the lamentable failure of "self government" in ancient America the most general and comprehensive was, of course, the impracticable nature of the system itself. In the light of modern culture, and instructed by history, we readily discern the folly of those crude ideas upon which the ancient Americans based what they knew as "republican institutions," and maintained, as long as maintenance was possible, with something of a religious fervor, even when the results were visibly disastrous. To us of to day it is clear that the word "self government" involves a contradiction, for government means control by something other than the thing to be controlled. When the thing governed is the same as the thing governing there is no government, though for a time there may be, as in the case under consideration there was, a considerable degree of forbearance, giving a misleading appearance of public order. This, however, soon must, as in fact it soon did, pass away with the delusion that gave it birth. The habit of obedience to written law, inculcated by generations of respect for actual government able to enforce its authority, will persist for a long time, with an ever lessening power upon the imagination of the people; but there comes a time when the tradition is forgotten and the delusion exhausted. When men perceive that nothing is restraining them but their consent to be restrained, then at last there is nothing to obstruct the free play of that selfishness which is the dominant characteristic and fundamental motive of human nature and human action respectively. Politics, which may have had something of the character of a contest of principles, becomes a struggle of interests, and its methods are frankly serviceable to personal and class advantage. Patriotism and respect for law pass like a tale that is told. Anarchy, no longer disguised as "government by consent," reveals his hidden hand, and in the words of our greatest living poet,

lets the curtain fall, And universal darkness buries all!

The ancient Americans were a composite people; their blood was a blend of all the strains known in their time. Their government, while they had one, being merely a loose and mutable expression of the desires and caprices of the majority that is to say, of the ignorant, restless and reckless gave the freest rein and play to all the primal instincts and elemental passions of the race. In so far and for so long as it had any restraining force, it was only the restraint of the present over the power of the past that of a new habit over an old and insistent tendency ever seeking expression in large liberties and indulgences impatient of control. In the history of that unhappy people, therefore, we see unveiled the workings of the human will in its most lawless state, without fear of authority or care of consequence. Nothing could be more instructive.

Of the American form of government, although itself the greatest of evils afflicting the victims of those that it entailed, but little needs to be said here; it has perished from the earth, a system discredited by an unbroken record of failure in all parts of the world, from the earliest historic times to its final extinction... Continue reading book >>


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