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The Decline of America [VDH]
National Review ^ | 2/14/2013 | Victor Davis Hanson

Posted on 02/14/2013 6:01:19 AM PST by Servant of the Cross

History shows that the destruction of affluent societies is often self-induced.

Why do once-successful societies ossify and decline?

Hundreds of reasons have been adduced for the fall of Rome and the end of the Old Regime in 18th-century France. Reasons run from inflation and excessive spending to resource depletion and enemy invasion, when historians attempt to understand the sudden collapse of the Mycenaeans, the Aztecs, and, apparently, the modern Greeks. In literature from Catullus to Edward Gibbon, wealth and leisure — and who gets the most of both — more often than poverty and exhaustion, cause civilization to implode.

One recurring theme seems consistent in Athenian literature on the eve of the city’s takeover by Macedon: social squabbling over slicing up a shrinking pie. Athenian speeches from that era make frequent reference to lawsuits over property and inheritance, evading taxes, and fudging eligibility for the dole. After the end of the Roman Republic, reactionary Latin literature — from the likes of Juvenal, Petronius, Suetonius, and Tacitus — pointed to “bread and circuses,” as well as excessive wealth, corruption, and top-heavy government.

For Gibbon and later French scholars, “Byzantine” became a pejorative description of a top-heavy Greek bureaucracy that could not tax enough vanishing producers to sustain a growing number of bureaucrats. In antiquity, inflating the currency by turning out cheap bronze coins was often the favored way to pay off public debts, while the law became fluid to address popular demands rather than to protect time-honored justice.

After the end of World War II, most of today’s powerhouses — China, France, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Russia, and Taiwan — were either in ruins or still pre-industrial. Only the United States and Great Britain had sophisticated economies that survived the destruction of the war. Both were poised to resupply a devastated world with new ships, cars, machinery, and communications.

In comparison with those of Frankfurt, the factories of 1945 Liverpool had survived mostly intact. Yet Britain missed out on the postwar German economic miracles, in part because after the deprivations of the war, the war-weary British turned to class warfare and nationalized their main industries, which soon became uncompetitive.

The gradual decline of a society is often a self-induced process of trying to meet ever-expanding appetites rather than a physical inability to produce past levels of food and fuel or to maintain adequate defense. Americans have never had safer workplaces or more sophisticated medical care — and never have so many been on disability.

King Xerxes’ huge Persian force of 250,000 sailors and soldiers could not defeat a rather poor Greece in 480 b.c. Yet a century and a half later, a much smaller invading force from the north under Philip II of Macedon overwhelmed the far more prosperous Greek descendants of the victors of Salamis.

For hundreds of years, the outmanned legions of the tiny and poor Roman Republic survived foreign invasions. Yet centuries later, tribal Goths, Visigoths, Vandals, and Huns overran the huge Mediterranean-wide Roman Empire.

Given our unsustainable national debt — nearly $17 trillion and climbing — America is said to be in decline, although we face no devastating plague, nuclear holocaust, or shortage of oil or food.

Americans have never led such affluent material lives — at least as measured by access to cell phones, big-screen TVs, cheap jet travel, and fast food. Obesity rather than malnutrition is the greater threat to national health. Flash mobs go after electronics stores, not food markets. Americans spend more money on Botox, face lifts, and tummy tucks than on the age-old scourges of polio, smallpox, and malaria.

If Martians looked at the small houses, one-car families, and primitive consumer goods of the 1950s, they would have thought the postwar United States, despite a balanced budget in 1956, was impoverished in comparison with an indebted contemporary America where consumers jostle for each new version of the iPhone.

By any historical marker, the future of Americans has never been brighter. The United States has it all: undreamed-of new finds of natural gas and oil, the world’s preeminent food production, continual technological wizardry, strong demographic growth, a superb military, and constitutional stability.

Yet we don’t talk confidently about capitalizing and expanding on our natural and inherited wealth. Instead, Americans bicker over entitlement spoils as the nation continues to pile up trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Enforced equality, rather than liberty, is the new national creed. The medicine of cutting back on government goodies seems far worse than the disease of borrowing trillions from the unborn to pay for them.

In August 1945, Hiroshima was in shambles, while Detroit was among the most innovative and wealthiest cities in the world. Contemporary Hiroshima now resembles a prosperous Detroit of 1945; parts of Detroit look like they were bombed decades ago.

History has shown that a government’s redistribution of shrinking wealth, in preference to a private sector’s creation of new sources of it, can prove more destructive than even the most deadly enemy.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Government; News/Current Events; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: america; americadecline; capitalism; communism; decline; enforcedequality; fascism; gdp; liberty; socialism; usdebt; vdh; victordavishanson
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VDH provides an historical look at the decline and fall of civilizations.

Look no further than the comparison of Hiroshima with Detroit. Democratic socialists running a government are today's nuclear bomb for a city.

1 posted on 02/14/2013 6:01:25 AM PST by Servant of the Cross
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To: Servant of the Cross; neverdem; Kaslin; Sir Napsalot; SeekAndFind; Rummyfan

Correction: DemocRAT socialist. VDH ping.

2 posted on 02/14/2013 6:05:13 AM PST by Servant of the Cross (the Truth will set you free)
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To: Servant of the Cross

“A Democracy will survive until the people discover they are able to vote themselves ever increasing shares of the public treasury.”

Variations of this quote have been around for over 2000 years, yet we’re not sure of it’s true source.

3 posted on 02/14/2013 6:09:38 AM PST by G Larry (Which of Obama's policies do you think I'd support if he were white?)
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To: Servant of the Cross

There is no question that Hansen is right. The Age of Obama is the time of decline. The mistake people make is assuming that the end will come with a sudden cataclysm. Actually the decadence and decline began in the 1960’s. The erosion of values and social adhesion has been steady. True Obama has accelerated it, but the our “fall” at least one that even the dolts will recognize is not yet upon us.

4 posted on 02/14/2013 6:25:36 AM PST by allendale
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To: Servant of the Cross

Make the point even stronger. Compare 1945 DETROIT with the 1945 vistas of Berlin, Warsaw, Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, and too many others to list.
Many of the photos of today’s Detroit could be shown among the those of a devastated Europe and NO ONE would know the difference. Only the difference in Japanese designs keep them from such a direct exhibit.
Detroit, the “future” of too many American cities. Sad.

5 posted on 02/14/2013 6:26:42 AM PST by CaptainAmiigaf (NY TIMES: "We print the news as it fits our views")
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To: G Larry

That has been my tag line for years. As Hanson points out so well in this article, its the reasoon many great societies fall. Wealth production is destroyed when the government takes more and more of it to subsidize the unproductive. There is a harsh reality that an affluent society does not want to face —that is that people must face the consequences of their actions, and to suffer from the consequences of their bad decisions. It is what drives them to do better. Are there some people how have “bad luck” and are there others who have wealth they did not work for? Sure. But in large part, over time, people are responsible for the situations they are in. As Hanson states, we are in a situation now where the masses realize they can vote themselves a relatively good life on someone else’s dime.

6 posted on 02/14/2013 6:27:23 AM PST by Opinionated Blowhard ("When the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.")
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To: Servant of the Cross

There were/are 3 occurances in United States’ History that DIRECTLY contributed to our current decline:
1. Our(founding fathers) acceptance of Human Slavery which led to...
...2. The US Federal Goverment Sponsored and led “War between the US States” which left a festering gash/wound in our national “Psyce” whick will NEVER be totally healed. AND
3. The “Progressives(Liberals)”(Teddy, Woodrow, FDR AND JFK/LBJ).

7 posted on 02/14/2013 6:27:51 AM PST by US Navy Vet (Go Packers! Go Rockies! Go Boston Bruins! See, I'm "Diverse"!)
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To: Servant of the Cross
"The Roman Republic fell, not because of the ambition of Caesar or Augustus, but because it had already long ceased to be in any real sense a republic at all. When the sturdy Roman plebeian, who lived by his own labor, who voted without reward according to his own convictions, and who with his fellows formed in war the terrible Roman legion, had been changed into an idle creature who craved nothing in life save the gratification of a thirst for vapid excitement, who was fed by the state, and who directly or indirectly sold his vote to the highest bidder, then the end of the Republic was at hand, and nothing could save it. The laws were the same as they had been, but the people behind the laws had changed, and so the laws counted for nothing.”

Teddy Roosevelt on the Fall of the Republic

8 posted on 02/14/2013 6:33:40 AM PST by TADSLOS (The Event Horizon has come and gone. Buckle up and hang on.)
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To: Servant of the Cross
'Given our unsustainable national debt — nearly $17 trillion and climbing — America is said to be in decline, although we face no devastating plague, nuclear holocaust, or shortage of oil or food.'

The US economy has been using debt to fund the economy and growth for decades. Without the drug of debt, there would be no growth. That is a fundamental problem with our economy and structure; one that our politicians and populace has failed to engage.

9 posted on 02/14/2013 6:48:45 AM PST by Theoria
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Human nature always trumps legalisms. When a culture embraces decadence it ceases to remain vibrant, prosperous and cohesive.

10 posted on 02/14/2013 6:50:48 AM PST by allendale
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To: Servant of the Cross
Thanks for the VDH ping.

As most of us (even libs, I suspect) can see the decline quite clearly, few can put it like VDH.

This is the last binge on Titanic, even though some have prepared, but circumstances might still sweep us away.

Quite depressing reading from FR, really.

11 posted on 02/14/2013 7:05:41 AM PST by Sir Napsalot (Pravda + Useful Idiots = CCCP; JournOList + Useful Idiots = DopeyChangey!)
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To: Servant of the Cross

And in how many of those cases was it the stress and cost of maintaing an empire? There’s a good argument that the Roman Republic fell because that form of government was well suited to a state such as the Republic was in it’s early history, but not such a good form of government for managing a world empire. Sneer all one wishes at the Byzantines, but they went on for just shy of a thousand years after the ostensible ‘fall’ of rome in 476.

I don’t want to pay the taxes necessary to have our boots in Afghanistan, Iraq, Korea, Germany or Japan. I sure as hell don’t want my taxes going to enrich any foreign citizens, anywhere, for any reason.

The desire for Empire, the attitude that we should be the world’s sole superpower, that our way of life is the only way, that any way of structuring a society, gauging morality or running the economy is the only possible good way is EXACTLY the sort of hubris that brought down the Athenians, and is every bit as harmful as any idiocy coming form the Democrats.

12 posted on 02/14/2013 7:12:19 AM PST by RedStateRocker (Nuke Mecca, Deport all illegals, abolish the IRS, DEA and ATF.)
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To: Theoria

“There are plenty of official proclamations as to how much debt the USA has-$16 Trillion.

But the unofficial debt, using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) now stands at $238 Trillion. Against an annual GDP of approximately $16 Trillion, that means that every dollar of value created by goods and services for the next 15 years is already spent. And that number, by the way, is in today’s dollars.”

13 posted on 02/14/2013 7:23:58 AM PST by griswold3 (Big Government does not tolerate rivals.)
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To: Sir Napsalot
“Failure accumulates gradually and then its effects become manifest all of a sudden. The slow part is nearly over. ....” (Richard Fernandez, Belmont Club, 2/13/2013) Wretchard was writing about Iran/Hezzbollah/Syria, Pakistan/NoKo and foreign affairs elsewhere.

However, the exact same words can be said about our current State of the Union. As Belmont Clubers like to say the ‘design margin’ had been completely (or almost completely) eroded away.

Not long to wait for "something" to happen now. And why the Feds and Obama Gang are in such a frenzy state.

14 posted on 02/14/2013 7:52:01 AM PST by Sir Napsalot (Pravda + Useful Idiots = CCCP; JournOList + Useful Idiots = DopeyChangey!)
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To: Servant of the Cross

Decline and fall bump.

15 posted on 02/14/2013 7:58:21 AM PST by Sans-Culotte ( Pray for Obama- Psalm 109:8)
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To: allendale
It seems more than a coincidence the acceleration of decline in the 1960s, with the Soviet Union's establishment (in the late '50s/early '60s) of the doctrine of the use of subversion vs. more active measures against the West. I suspect whatever seeds they may have planted then are now paying off (too late for them).
16 posted on 02/14/2013 7:58:38 AM PST by VAarea
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To: VAarea

Never before in my life have I EVER had trouble finding a job. Longest unemployment was 5 months.

Can not now if my life depended on it.

17 posted on 02/14/2013 8:34:36 AM PST by bicyclerepair (Zombies Eat Brains. Half of FL is safe.)
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To: Servant of the Cross
By any historical marker, the future of Americans has never been brighter.

Not so much anymore... There are countries worth dying for - and this was definitely one of them ... not so much now.

Who wants to send their kids off to fight for Obama and his elite friends - folks skimming the Chicago Way? Or Generals on the 'quiet take' of after retirement high paying jobs... Or large cities - once shining on hillsides - becoming gang infested hellholes?

Once there was pride in our leaders their wisdom at keeping our economy safe. Today lowlife 'leaders' rush to bankrupt the nation while keeping money flowing into their campaign chests. When we object they open our gates and call for freeloaders and illegals to prop up their power.

Ancient Greeks gave up too - they even quit having children. Like Europeans are doing - and we're starting to do... Cultural suicide. Happens.

18 posted on 02/14/2013 9:12:18 AM PST by GOPJ ( Illegal immigrants: violent boorish party crashers. Send them home, call police - make them leave.)
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To: Servant of the Cross


19 posted on 02/14/2013 9:37:20 AM PST by VRW Conspirator (Sometimes it takes calamity to lead to serenity - FReeper RacerX1128)
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To: Servant of the Cross

hindsight is 20/20 what about a plan for the future?

Themisticles knew what had to be done and did it.

(he convinced Leonidas)

We are fighting with paper cuts, what is the solution?

We are using debt as currency.
What happens to and what do you do with the takers when their obamaphones are gone, ebt cards are empty, and NYC garbage is piling up?

20 posted on 02/14/2013 10:30:28 AM PST by longtermmemmory (VOTE! and
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