[Paleopsych] Victor D. Hansen: Stories of Imperial Collapse are Getting Old

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VDH's Private Papers::Stories of Imperial Collapse are Getting Old

[I'm taking my annual Lenten break from forwarding articles again this 
year. It's a vice to spend so much time doing this. So I'll be off the air 
for forty days and forty nights from Ash Wednesday until Easter.]

    January 26, 2005
    Stories of Imperial Collapse Are Getting Old
    by Victor Davis Hanson
    New Criterion

    The [6]most recent doom-and-gloom forecast by Matthew Parris of the
    London Times would be hilarious if it were not so hackneyed. After
    all, Americans long ago have learned to grin any time a British
    intellectual talks about the upstart's foreordained imperial collapse.
    And as in the case of our own intelligentsia's gloominess, it is not
    hard to distinguish the usual prophets' pessimistic prognostications
    from their thinly-disguised hopes for American decline and fall.

    But this country is now in its third century and assurances that the
    United States is about through are getting old. In the early 20th
    century the rage was first Spengler and then Toynbee who warned us
    that our crass consumer capitalism would lead to inevitable spiritual
    decay. Next, the Hitlerians assured the Volk that the mongrel
    Americans could never set foot on German-occupied soil, so decadent
    were these Chicago mobsters and uncouth cowboys. Existentialism and
    pity for the empty man in the gray flannel suit were the rage of the
    1950s, as Americans, we were told, had become depressed and given up
    in the face of racial inequality, rapid suburbanization, and the
    spread of world-wide national liberationist movements.

    In the 1960s and 1970s we heard of the population bomb and all sorts
    of catastrophes in store for the United States and the world in
    general that had unwisely followed its profligate paradigm of
    consumption; yet despite Paul Ehrlich's strident doomsday scenario,
    the environment got cleaner and the people of the globe richer. And
    then came the historian Paul Kennedy, who, citing earlier Spanish and
    English implosions, "proved" that the United States had played itself
    out in the Cold War, ruining its economy to match the Soviet Union in
    a hopeless arms race-publishing his findings shortly before the
    Russian empire collapsed and the American economy took off (again).

    In the Carter `malaise years,' we were warned about the impending
    triumph of `Asian Values' and the supposed cultural superiority of
    Japan, Inc., which would shortly own most of whatever lazy and
    ignorant Americans sold them-before the great meltdown brought on by
    corruption, censorship, and ossified bureaucracies in Asia.

    Currently Jared Diamond is back with [7]Collapse, another grim tale
    from the desk of a Westwood professor, full of remonstrations about
    social inequality and resource depletion that we have come to expect
    from the rarified habitat in which tenured full professors thrive.

    All that disenchantment is the context in which Matthew Parris now
    warns us that our military is overstretched and our economy
    weak-despite the fact that our gross domestic product is larger than
    ever and the percentage of it devoted to military spending at historic
    lows, far below what was committed during WWII, Korea, or Vietnam. The
    American military took out Noriega, Milosevic, the Taliban, and Saddam
    with a minimum of effort, and what followed was far better for both
    the long-suffering victims and the world at large. The difficult
    postbellum reconstruction in Iraq is costly and heartbreaking, but so
    far after September 11 we have lost fewer troops in 3 years of
    fighting that we did in one day during the Bulge or at Normandy. While
    Parris decries our slow decline, the United States alone will soon
    have the world's only anti-ballistic missile system and the forward
    basing presence to preempt would-be nuclear rogue states before they
    imperil Americans. Europeans may brag of soft power, but in the scary
    world to come let us hope that they can bribe, beg, lecture, or
    appease Iranians, North Koreans, Chinese, and others to appreciate the
    realities of their postmodern world that has supposedly transcended
    violence and war.

    It is true that Americans are worried about high budget deficits,
    trade imbalances, a weak dollar, and national debt; but we are already
    at work to rectify these problems, convinced that the correctives are
    not depression and chaos, but rather a little sobriety and sacrifice
    in what has been a breakneck rise in the standard of living the last
    20 years, prosperity unmarked in the history of civilization. Better
    indicators of our health are low unemployment, low inflation, low
    interest rates, along with high worker productivity and innovation.
    Hollywood movies, New York books, Silicon Valley software and
    gadgetry, Pentagon arms, the English language, and popular culture
    show no signs of fading before French film, London publishing, Indian
    I-pods, Chinese aircraft carriers, the global preference for Mandarin
    or burquas for bare-navels and Levis.

    Parris cites the rise of other economies; but they, not us, have the
    real problems ahead. The EU does not assimilate very well its
    immigrants-in contrast, more come to the US every year than to all
    other countries combined. Enormous apartheid communities of Muslims,
    full of simmering resentment, reside outside Parris and in the
    Netherlands, Scandinavia, and Germany, not in Detroit and New York.
    European socialism is facing a demographic nightmare; and soon budget
    shortfalls to pay for its utopian agenda will be made worse once the
    United States begins to withdraw its 50-year subsidy of the
    continent's defense. History suggests that atheism and secularism are
    not indicators of strength but of apathy and aimlessness. The United
    States-not Europe, Russia, or China-- is a religious community, and,
    pace Michael Moore, without the fundamentalist extremism of the Middle
    East and reactionary Islam.

    China and India are the new tigers, but their rapid industrialization
    and urbanization have created enormous social and civic problems long
    ago dealt with by the United States. Each must soon confront
    environmentalism, unionism, minority rights, free expression,
    community activism, and social entitlements that are the wages of any
    citizenry that begins to taste leisure and affluence. China is fueled
    by industrious laborers who toil at cut-rate wages for 14 hours per
    day, but that will begin to moderate once an empowered citizenry
    worries about dirty air, back backs, inadequate housing, and poor
    health care. The infrastructure of generations-bridges, roads,
    airports, universities, power grids-are well established and being
    constantly improved in the United States, and so there is a reason why
    a European would prefer to drink the water, get his appendix out, or
    drive in San Francisco rather than in Bombay, Beijing, Istanbul-or
    Paris or Rome.

    Nowhere in the world is the rule of law as stable in the United
    States, which is the most transparent society on the globe and thus
    the most trusted for investors and entrepreneurs-no surprise given its
    hallowed Constitution and Bill of Rights. Parris notes the presence
    abroad of thousands of American troops, but does not ask whether any
    other country has, or will have, the air or sea lift capacity to
    project such power, force that allowed American ships and helicopters
    to save thousands after the tsunami when Europe's lone Charles de
    Gaulle was nowhere to be seen. China and India, for all their robust
    economies, have neither the ability to help victims of mass disasters
    nor citizenries wealthy or generous enough to give hundreds of
    millions to strangers abroad.

    All civilizations erode, but few citizenries are as sensitive to the
    signs of decay as Americans, who constantly innovate, experiment, and
    self-critique in a fashion unknown anywhere else. When we develop a
    class system based on British aristocratic breeding, accent, and
    social paralysis, or sink into a multicultural cauldron like the
    endemic violence of an India or Africa, or cease believing in either
    God or children like an Amsterdam or Brussels, or require the state
    coercion of a China to maintain harmony, or become a racialist state
    such as Japan, then it is time to worry.

    But we are not there yet by a long shot.


    6. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1065-1451138,00.html
    7. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0670033375/qid=1106575755

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