Is America’s decline inevitable? No.
Comment on a thread at the DNI blog:
“IMHO, the United States is so far down this path that – absent some deus ex machina – its political / economic decline seems to be inevitable and irreversible. Under these circumstances, our efforts should not be to seek to stem or to reverse this process but rather to seek means to carve out islands of civility and/or excellence notwithstanding general political decay. Eg. the Spain of Philip IV, with its imperial decline, was nevertheless also the Spain of Velasquez.”
These sentiments are widespread already. As times darken such views will become more so. They raise two important issues. First, why be an American if one has no faith in the American people? How can you believe in democracy without that faith? The second concerns the gravity of the threats we face.
Perhaps as a result of the long summer of America, the post-WWII era of prosperity and peace (relatively speaking), many folks see any serious threat as Armageddon. But consider our problems vs. those of our European ancestors. Did they surrender?
- The 6th and 7th century plaques that killed 1/4 to 1/2 of the peoples in the Eastern Mediterranean region (see Plague of Justinian).
- The Black death, 14th century plagues and famines that killed 1/3 – 1/2 of Europe’s population.
Those disasters had death tolls of the sort we probably could experience only in a nuclear war (or an improbably geophysical event, such as an asteroid impact).
- England in 1588, facing the overwhelming might of the Spanish Empire — which ruled most of Europe.
- Russia when invaded by Napoleon in 1812. 1941 was even worse. Ruled by a madman. Their government had betrayed the hopes of the revolution, killed tens of millions, and reduced the nation to poverty. Most of their generals were dead, their armies were in full retreat, and vast areas were controlled by a ruthless invader.
- The UK in mid-1941, almost friendless, surrounded by victorious enemies, bankrupt.
There are many examples from our own history. The dark days of the Revolution. Or the Union in early 1863 — battlefield defeats, the Confederacy working to gain foreign allies, support for the war waining at home (Copperheads, draft riots).
Even more relevant, consider conditions in 1937. We had much more to fear than fear itself. War looming in Asia and Europe plus an apparently endless Great Depression. We had several schools of economists proposing remedies, each contradicting the others, all speaking in tongues (just like today).
Our problems today are unique, as is each crisis in history. I doubt they are worse than those we have surmounted in the past.
Excerpt from Forecast: Death of the American Constitution
The mark of a great people is the ability to carry on when all is lost, including hope. We can learn much from the Russian people’s behavior in WWII. I doubt we will fall into such peril. On the other hand, our situation might be far more complex, with no clear enemy to unify us. But there is no cause for despair.
People, Ideas, and Hardware. “In that order!” the late Col John R. Boyd, USAF, would thunder at his audiences.
Our wealth is just things (“hardware”), an inheritance from past generations. What we lose we can work and replace. Our aspirations to global hegemony were revealed as a mirage in Vietnam and Iraqi, lasting less than two generations after WWII.
The Constitution is not America. We are America. Our Constitution is just an idea, inherited from the founders. We created it, and its death will give us the experience to do better with the next version.
Our culture is a collection of discordant ideas, mixing lofty and base elements in a manner despised by much of the world – an easily understood disgust to anyone watching many of our TV shows and movies, or listening to some of our popular music.
We are strong because of our ability to act together, to produce and follow leaders. We are strong due to our openness to other cultures and ability to assimilate their best aspects. We are strong due to our ability to adapt to new circumstances, to roll with defeat and carry on.
We will be what we want to be. The coming years will reveal what that is.
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
Posts on the FM site with good news about America:
- Good news: The Singularity is coming (again) (8 December 2007) — History tends to look better over longer time horizons. For example, consider one bit of good news: the Singularity is coming.
- Some good news (one of the more important posts on this blog) (21 December 2007) – I do not believe we need fear the future, despite the tough times coming soon. This remains a great nation, not because of our past but because of us and our polity. We differ from almost every other nation. The difference consists of our commitment to our political order, of which our Constitution is the foundation. In this we are like Athens more than our neighbors …
- A crisis at the beginning of the American experiment (27 December 2008) — Looking at the problems looming before us, it is easy to forget those of equal or greater danger that we have surmounted in the past.
- An important thing to remember as we start a New Year (29 December 2007) — As we start a New Year I find it useful to review my core beliefs. It is easy to lose sight of those amidst the clatter of daily events. Here is my list…
- Is America’s decline inevitable? No. (21 January 2008) – Why be an American if one has no faith in the American people? How can you believe in democracy without that faith?
- Let us light a candle while we walk, lest we fear what lies ahead (10 February 2008) — Many people look to the future with fear. We see this fear throughout the web. Right-wing sites describe the imminent end of America: overrun by foreigners, victim of cultural and financial collapse. Left-wing sites describe “die-off” scenarios due to Peak Oil, climate change, and ecological collapse – as the American dream dies from takeover by theocrats and fascists. Most of this is nonsense, but not the prospect of massive changes in our world. But need we fear the future?
- A happy ending to the current economic recession (12 February 2008) — Sometimes we can see medium-term outcomes with greater clarity than short-term events or long-term trends. In January 1942 none could forecast the events of the next 44 months, but it did not take an expert to see that the US would defeat Japan. So it is with the current economic down cycle in America.
- Fears of flying into the future (25 February 2008) — Reasons we need not fear the future.
- Experts, with wrinkled brows, warn about the future (2 May 2008) — Experts often see the future with alarm, seeing the dangers but not benefits. That gets attention, from both the media and an increasingly fearful public. Both sides feed this process. It need not be so, as most trends contain the seeds of good and bad futures. This post considers two examples.
- Good news about the 21st century, a counterbalance to the doomsters (9 May 2008)
- “America’s Greatest Weapon” (25 May 2008)