The following piece was (not surprisingly) rejected by the Los Angeles Times. Although they’ve run my stuff in the past, I really didn’t expect them or any major US paper to buy this one; I just filed it out of habit and a sort of “what the hell…” attitude. The graphics were added afterwards and are downloaded from the Web.
The Decline and Fall of the American Empire
March 18, 2012
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA — It’s a truism that we live in times where not only is there rapid progress, but progress is constantly accelerating; not only is it accelerating, but the rate of acceleration is increasing. It’s therefore only reasonable to speculate that accordingly the life cycle of large social structures is likely to accelerate as well.
Historically, empires have risen, peaked, plateaued, declined, and fallen. Every one of them. In the Western world, we usually start conversations on the life cycle of empires with a reference to ancient Egypt; not the first, of course, but certainly the paradigm example of a mighty empire that rose to dominate its region of the world, enjoyed its lofty position for a long time and then ultimately collapsed and was replaced in importance by other younger, more energetic empires. The Persian, the Alexandrian Greek, The Roman, and in modern times, the British Empires have all risen and fallen. The life cycle of empires has been accelerating; the Egyptian Empire flourished for thousands of years but the far more extensive and powerful British Empire rose, peaked, plateaued, and declined all within the period between the two Elizabeths.
The United States of America was the world leader for most of the 20thCentury, and continued to be the most powerful nation on Earth into the next. Its empire was a commercial and cultural one; rather than territorial colonialism, the US dominated the world through its social and cultural influence bolstered by its economic and military clout. Nevertheless, the American Empire was clearly the most extensive, rich and enormously powerful empire in history. But that empire is in decline and inevitably sliding into oblivion. All the signs are there.
When an enormously powerful and extensive empire is in decline, certain common characteristics are observable. Complacency, the reverence for mediocrity, political malaise, social cynicism, internal squabbling, personal or special interests placed ahead of those of society; all these are indications of a society or empire on the downhill side of the empire life cycle graph. When we start to see retrogressive movement within the body politic of a society, when we see that society rolling back advances that were made by predecessors, moves to repeal legislation that was once considered enlightened and progressive, when a privileged elite passes legislation intended to pull up the drawbridge and reinforce a rigidly defined economic class structure, when religion begins to play a greater and greater role in once secular politics, we are watching the collapse of that society and the empire that supports it. As one follows the clown show that is US politics in the early 21st Century, one can’t help but become aware that we are watching the death throes of the American Empire; it won’t go out with a bang, but the whimper can already be heard.
All that and more is clearly happening in the US. Confidence in government is down; expectations for the future are at an all-time low; malaise and cynicism are the orders of the day. The Republican Party is selecting a candidate for the presidency by forcing the contenders to fall all over themselves pushing the right side of the envelope to the breaking point. Meanwhile they will take on an incumbent president who describes himself as a “moderate”, is described by the right as a “radical socialist”, but is, in fact, further to the right, at least economically, than the right’s patron saint, Ronald Reagan. This a clear indication that the spirit of community, the idea of pulling one another along, lending a hand to those in need is being replaced by a philosophy of each one for himself and the devil take the hindmost; an unmistakeable harbinger of the last days of a society.
Elsewhere in the world, there is an inclination for communities and societies to coalesce, to come together for common purposes; to address issues from world hunger, to the spread of infectious diseases, climate change, and other issues of global significance. Meanwhile the US is tearing itself apart, reinforcing the battle lines in the class war, the gender war, the race war, the class war. Radically religious politicians are dwelling on the differences among people and the general tenor of political discussion is divisive; candidates don’t run because they have something to offer the country, or because they have new, positive ideas – they run because of hatred and a desire to destroy an incumbent. The GOP expresses quite candidly that their current agenda is to nominate a candidate with the sole genuine criterion for his nomination being the likelihood of his ousting President Obama; their agenda is a negative one, and one based on hostility that is, at the very least, partly based in racism.
The gap between the rich and poor in the US has never been more apparent; women’s rights are being eroded, and under the transparent pretext of addressing the non-existent problem of voter fraud, one after another attempt is being made to disenfranchise significant sections of the electorate. It is quite likely that there is no way back from this nadir in the spirit of progress that once defined the United States of America. It will be a shame to see it collapse, but the great experiment in liberal democracy is apparently coming to an end.
The world in some ways is a better place for the leadership, even the world domination by the US in the 20thCentury, but the current situation demonstrates that their day in the sun is over. It will soon be the turn of a more energetic, purposeful society; a society that puts society ahead of self-interest. It will be mourned, but the sad fact is that the United States of America is no longer the city on the hill, the envy of the world.
It is the Nora Desmond of nations; a walking corpse of decadent, faded greatness, still pathetically demanding a respect that it lost long ago.