The Course of an Empire — Sample Chapter from a New Novel

As I wrote my novel throughout last year, I did not expect a dreadful scene that I had imagined to be so soon plastered on newspapers across the country.

The complete, semi-polished manuscript is still hot off the press (of my computer’s hard drive, anyway) and I’m still gathering feedback from several people I’ve asked to read it before I delve into the endeavor of publishing, but I thought I’d share one of the first chapters with you in light of the recent events.

First my thoughts and then the chapter—though if you’d rather just read the chapter first, feel free to scroll down to it!

In the chapter, I make reference to a series of five paintings from Thomas Cole titled The Course of Empire.

The fourth in the series, “Destruction,” is pictured above, and resembles all too well the images we saw of the storming of the U.S. Capitol on January 6th.

Before the coronavirus lockdowns began last March, I had the bright idea of livening up my apartment walls with the paintings (since they’re so old that they’re in the public domain, it’s inexpensive to get large, poster-sized images printed).

I chose to surround myself with these images to serve as an inspiration for my story because they resonate with the themes I wanted to explore.

Most obviously, Cole’s paintings deal with the rise and fall of empires and governments.

He is said to have taken a great deal of inspiration from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, which makes an assertion akin to the wisdom found in Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun:

There is the moral of all human tales:
‘Tis but the same rehearsal of the past,
First Freedom, and then Glory—when that fails,
Wealth, vice, corruption—barbarism at last.

— Fourth Canto, CVIII

The idea of a cyclical nature of government was no novel concept for Cole or Byron.

Though political philosophers have haggled over it far more than I care to discuss here, let alone research, reasonable thinkers as far back as Aristotle have recognized the shifting of power between the one, the few, and the many, which inevitably leads to the downfall and change of governmental institutions.

The question on everyone’s mind today is whether America is doomed to repeat that course of empire, and if we are, how long until the Constitution is a fleeting memory from a bygone age?

Many—myself included—would argue that the Founders accomplished an amazing task in structuring our government to maintain checks and balances between the one, the few, and the many; and between states and the federal government; and between the lawmakers, the executives, and the judges. 

But even a government as well-founded as America’s is subject to the entropy of order.

After all, the rise and fall of empires is evidence to another problem that inevitably leads toward chaos: human nature.

The fallen state of humanity alongside our knowledge of a Moral Law that has been written on our hearts is the more significant theme I focus on in my novel.

Though it is told in the context of political intrigue mixed with government conspiracies and a heavy dose of science—or perhaps speculative—fiction, the roots of the story trace back to Plato and St. Augustine and C.S. Lewis.

It asks the fundamental question of what makes humans human and it explores the ideas of The Abolition of Man in a mid-21st century context (yes, it’s set in the future).

If you want to know more about where I’m coming from, it wouldn’t hurt to pre-order A Compass for Deep Heaven: Navigating the C. S. Lewis Ransom Trilogy, a book that I contributed a chapter to on how Lewis’s ideas in The Abolition of Man can be seen at work in his science fiction trilogy.

So with that, below is a sample chapter from my book, as told by the novel’s narrator, Senator Calvin Lewis of none other than the Lone Star State. Beyond that, I’ll give you no other context so that the mysteries within will abound.

Chapter 4: The Course of Empire

When I opened my eyes, I found myself standing somewhere akin to the Promised Land—otherwise known as the Texas Hill Country. It wasn’t any particular place I had seen before, but it had aspects of all my favorite places merged together. The wind whisked fresh air against my face, a distant stream strung out its endless chorus, and birds sang along with their melodious bedtime tune. The sky was purple, a field of bluebonnets danced in the breeze, and an orchard of peach trees chanted in harmony with it all.

In the midst of the natural symphony stood a monumental structure of incomparable grandeur. The Parthenon would not have compared, even at the height of its glory. It was the form of a Capitol, twice the height of Texas’ and twice the girth of the nation’s. Its top shined brighter than any beacon, and I was drawn to it like a moth to light.

Perfectly square steps trailed up to the grand entrance of the rotunda. Directly across from the opening hung an enormous, romanticized painting of the National Mall with families playing in the grass and the U.S. Capitol in the background. To my left was another giant painting of what appeared to be the same scene, but a few hundred years earlier when the Hill was little else but farmland. And to the left of that, was the same scene with only natives hunting. I glanced to the mirroring paintings on the other side and realized it was a series much like Thomas Cole’s Course of Empire, but instead of telling the story of the rise and fall of a Greco-Roman city-state, it was America. The last painting on the far right was of the Capitol in ruins, but the fourth in the series was what caught my eyes. I’ve often wondered if we’re on the brink of the chaos captured in that image—a modern equivalent to the sack of Rome.

“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” asked a voice from behind me. I turned around to see an old man in a gray flannel suit donning a gray fedora.

“‘Something’ is a good word,” I said. “I’m still processing this entire place.”

“There’s a lot to take in. You could relive a lot of your own memories here. But you shouldn’t worry about that right now because you’re meant to see something far more important. The device you are using was brought to you by Young August so you might see that everything he tells you is true and that you must help him.”

“That’s all fine and well, but how am I supposed to know this isn’t just a hallucination?”

“Your friend Ronny didn’t seem to think it was a hallucination when he told you the initials to remember.”

I never told anyone about my conversation with Ronny, so I was sure that whoever this lad was, he was certainly in my own mind.

“You can take it as real or imaginary at your discretion,” the Man in Gray continued. “I’m just here to show you what’s happened. It has been appointed that this course of events be revealed to you both now and again. Once that you would know, and twice that you would make known. For the Truth must be used to move you at the present time, but you must bear testimony of the Truth in the time to come that the world might be moved.”

“Well now you’ve got me mighty curious,” I said. “Lead the way.”

The Man in Gray led me up the spiral staircase to the top of the dome. What he showed me there was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was bright and vivid. It felt as Ronny had described—like someone had plucked me out of the earth to show it to me from an entirely different perspective, yet it still somehow felt more real than what we know as waking reality. And I was indeed shown all that had happened to August leading up to our providential meeting. This is what I saw.