Suicide, not murder 1

In a must-read article, Mark Steyn writes in the National Review about the possibility of American decline, pointing out that it is a matter of choice, and that the Democrats now in power are offering that choice. Here are some paragraphs:

Permanence is an illusion – and you would be surprised at how fast mighty nations can be entirely transformed. But, more importantly, national decline is psychological – and therefore what matters is accepting the psychology of decline. Within two generations, for example, the German people became just as obnoxiously pacifist as they once were obnoxiously militarist, and as avowedly “European” as they once were menacingly nationalist. Well, who can blame ‘em? You’d hardly be receptive to pitches for national greatness after half-a-century of Kaiser Bill, Weimar, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust.

But what are we to make of the British? They were on the right side of all the great conflicts of the last century; and they have been, in the scales of history, a force for good in the world. Even as their colonies advanced to independence, they retained the English language, and English legal system, not to mention cricket and all kinds of other cultural ties. Even in imperial retreat, there is no rational basis for late 20th century Britain’s conclusion that it had no future other than as an outlying province of a centralized Euro nanny state dominated by nations whose political, legal and cultural traditions are entirely alien to its own. The embrace of such an alien fate is a psychological condition, not an economic one.

Is America set for decline? It’s been a grand run. The country’s been the leading economic power since it overtook Britain in the 1880s. That’s impressive. Nevertheless, over the course of that century and a quarter, Detroit went from the world’s industrial powerhouse to an urban wasteland, and the once golden state of California atrophied into a land of government run by the government for the government. What happens when the policies that brought ruin to Detroit and sclerosis to California became the basis for the nation at large? Strictly on the numbers, the United States is in the express lane to Declinistan: Unsustainable entitlements, the remorseless governmentalization of the American economy and individual liberty, and a centralization of power that will cripple a nation of this size. Decline is the way to bet. But what will ensure it is if the American people accept decline as a price worth paying for European social democracy.

Is that so hard to imagine? Every time I retail the latest indignity imposed upon the “citizen” by some or other Continental apparatchik, I receive e-mails from the heartland pointing out, with much reference to the Second Amendment, that it couldn’t happen here because Americans aren’t Euro-weenies. But nor were Euro-weenies once upon a time. Hayek’s greatest insight in The Road To Serfdom is psychological: “There is one aspect of the change in moral values brought about by the advance of collectivism which at the present time provides special food for thought,” he wrote with an immigrant’s eye on the Britain of 1944. “It is that the virtues which are held less and less in esteem and which consequently become rarer are precisely those on which the British people justly prided themselves and in which they were generally agreed to excel.

The virtues possessed by Anglo-Saxons in a higher degree than most other people, excepting only a few of the smaller nations, like the Swiss and the Dutch, were independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, non-interference with one’s neighbor and tolerance of the different and queer, respect for custom and tradition, and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.” Two-thirds of a century on, almost every item on the list has been abandoned, from “independence and self-reliance” (40 per cent of people receive state handouts) to “a healthy suspicion of power and authority” – the reflex response now to almost any passing inconvenience is to demand the government “do something”, the cost to individual liberty be damned. American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer a similar expansion of government and not witness, in enough of the populace, the same descent into dependency and fatalism. As Europe demonstrates, a determined state can change the character of a people in the space of a generation or two. Look at what the Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population: That’s what happened in Britain…

One sympathizes with Americans weary of global responsibilities that they, unlike the European empires, never sought. The United States now spends more on its military than the next 40 or so nations combined. In research and development, it spends more than the rest of the planet put together. Yet in two rinky-dink no-account semi-colonial policing campaigns, it doesn’t feel like that, does it? A lot of bucks, but not much of a bang. You can understand why the entire left and an increasing chunk of the right would rather vote for a quiet life. But that’s not an option. The first victims of American retreat will be the many corners of the world that have benefitted from an unusually benign hegemon. But the consequences of retreat will come home, too. In a more dangerous world, American decline will be steeper, faster and more devastating than Britain’s – and something far closer to Rome’s.

In the modern era, the two halves of “the west” form a mirror image. “The Old World” has thousand-year old churches and medieval street plans and ancient hedgerows, but has been distressingly susceptible to every insane political fad from Communism to Fascism to European Union. “The New World” has a superficial novelty – you can have your macchiato tweeted directly to your iPod – but underneath the surface noise it has remained truer to older political ideas than “the Old World” ever has. Economic dynamism and political continuity seem far more central to America’s sense of itself than they are to most nations. Which is why it’s easier to contemplate Spain or Germany as a backwater than America. In a fundamental sense, an America in eclipse would no longer be America.

But, as Charles Krauthammer said recently, “decline is a choice.” The Democrats are offering it to the American people, and a certain proportion of them seem minded to accept. Enough to make decline inevitable? … In the words of [the seldom so insightful historian] Arnold Toynbee: “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”

  • Bill

    Bravo! This article should be read by every Dumbocrat in Congress and the one in the White House!