Skip to comments.The American 21st Century
Posted on 12/30/2010 1:25:02 PM PST by Delacon
America’s rivals lack the culture necessary to sustain greatness.
The current debt, recession, wars, and political infighting have depressed Americans into thinking their country soon will be overtaken by more vigorous rivals abroad. Yet this is an American fear as old as it is improbable.
In the 1930s, the Great Depression supposedly marked the end of freewheeling American capitalism. The 1950s were caricatured as a period of mindless American conformity, McCarthyism, and obsequious company men.
By the late 1960s, the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., along with the Vietnam War, had fueled a hippie counterculture that purportedly was going to replace a toxic American establishment. In the 1970s, oil shocks, gas lines, Watergate, and new rustbelts were said to be symptomatic of a post-industrial, has-been America.
At the same time, other nations, we were typically told, were doing far better.
In the late 1940s, with the rise of a postwar Soviet Union that had crushed Hitler’s Wehrmacht on the eastern front during World War II, Communism promised a New Man as it swept through Eastern Europe.
Mao Zedong took power in China and inspired Communist revolutions from North Korea to Cuba. Statist central planning was going to replace the unfairness and inefficiency of Western-style capitalism. Yet just a half-century later, Communism had either imploded or been superseded in most of the world.
By the early 1980s, Japan’s state capitalism along with emphasis on the group rather than the individual was being touted as the ideal balance between the public and private sectors. Japan Inc. continually outpaced the growth of the American economy. Then, in the 1990s, a real-estate bubble and a lack of fiscal transparency led to a collapse of property prices and a general recession. A shrinking and aging Japanese population, led by a secretive government, has been struggling ever since to recover the old magic.
At the beginning of the 21st century, the European Union was hailed as the proper Western paradigm of the future. The euro soared over the dollar. Europe practiced a sophisticated “soft power,” while American cowboyism was derided for getting us into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Civilized cradle-to-grave benefits were contrasted with the frontier, every-man-for-himself American system.
Now Europe limps from crisis to crisis. Its undemocratic union, coupled with socialist entitlements, is proving unsustainable. Symptoms of the ossified European system appear in everything from a shrinking population and a growing atheism to an inability to integrate Muslim immigrants or field a credible military.
As we enter this new decade, we are being lectured that China is soon to be the global colossus. Its economy is now second only to America’s, but with a far faster rate of growth and with budget surpluses rather than debt. Few seem to mention that China’s mounting social tensions, mercantilism, environmental degradation, and state bosses belong more to a 19th- than a 21st-century nation.
Amid all this doom and gloom, two factors are constant over the decades. First, America goes through periodic bouts of neurotic self-doubt, only to wake up and snap out of it. Indeed, indebted Americans are already bracing for fiscal restraint and parsimony as an antidote to past profligacy.
Second, decline is relative and does not occur in a vacuum. As Western economic and scientific values ripple out from Europe and the United States, it is understandable that developing countries like China, India, and Brazil can catapult right into the 21st century. But that said, national strength is still measured by the underlying hardiness of the patient — its demography, culture, and institutions — rather than by occasional symptoms of ill health.
In that regard, America integrates immigrants and assimilates races and ethnicities in a way Europe cannot. Russia, China, and Japan are simply not culturally equipped to deal with millions who do not look Slavic, Chinese, or Japanese. The Islamic world cannot ensure religious parity to Christians, Jews, or Hindus — or political equality to women.
The American Constitution has been tested over 223 years. In contrast, China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea have constitutional pedigrees of not much more than 60 years. The last time Americans killed each other in large numbers was nearly a century and a half ago; most of our rivals have seen millions of their own destroyed in civil strife and internecine warring just this past century.
In short, a nation’s health is gauged not by bouts of recession and self-doubt, but by the durability of its political, economic, military, and social foundations. A temporarily ill-seeming America is nevertheless still growing, stable, multiethnic, transparent, individualistic, self-critical, and meritocratic; almost all of its apparently healthy rivals, by contrast, are not.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern. You can reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now tell me about the history of ‘takers’ to ‘makers’ in the US, and how that is not supposed to make any difference.
I’ll agree with VDH’s general thesis, but in the “it’s different this time” category, I am truly not sure if the US and all its “enduring values” (to summarize VDH in the article) can overcome the systematic, pervasive, and pernicious assaults they presently suffer, simultaneously attacked on so many fronts.
If indeed, again per VDH, the killer factor is the “strength of the people”, then I am again not sure da peeple have the guts to pull it off this time. Yes, the potential is there, always was always has been, probably is now. But da peeple are under attack from the institutions they used to rely on, benefit from, and revere. The “rule of law” has been turned on the people, and I believe has been twisted to the point where criminality is now considered sacrosanct as long as the amount of money is big enough. The US has always been such a rich store of wealth and resources, that it has always been able to withstand the petty looters, the parasites, and even the traitors within. This time? With the entire banking system bailed out via taxpayer funding for looting the system? Having already fostered the transfer of middle-class wealth creation offshore? With healthcare poised to weaken both the physical health and the economics of the American family and the individuals contained therein? With literally all governments, at every level, bankrupt and poised to raise taxes and constrict opportunity and economic freedom every chance they get?
I’ll not argue that the raw material resides right here in the US. That’s not to say that any and every force has its point of being overpowered. Just where that is is what I wonder about.
When does it get to the point that the rational man cannot help but see the imminent demise of the state that once encouraged his properity but now attacks it; and cannot overcome his own survival instincts and thus switches from patriotism to self-survival?
What KC_Lion just said in #6.
The under reported story of November 2nd, is the flip of the 700 State Legislatures, once the states fight back against the Federal Government, we will become more free once again.
I agree with VDH that China, for example, has little to offer the world outside of its borders, except cheap goods. Russia will always be focused just on Russia’s interests, etc...
BUT - America has no God-given right to world leadership and prosperity. Remain a free and moral nation, and the USA will be granted leadership over others - but let our Gov’t and the citizens of this country accept laziness, collectivism, tyranny and corruption - and it will, over time, turn us into just another sclerotic and declining country like those in South America or Europe.
Thanks for such a thougtful, substantive comment.
“BUT - America has no God-given right to world leadership and prosperity. Remain a free and moral nation, and the USA will be granted leadership over others”
I’m going to have to ponder the assertion you made in sentence #2, esp in light of sentence #1. I think I have to doubt that.
If we don’t have any God-given right, then it’s probably not going to be a sense of morality and freedom that’s going to guarantee much of anything for us. We’re going to have to go to war, kill, and seize what it is that might support our standard of living. Or settle for a lot less.
During prior periods when we have gone through immensely challenging times, (GD1, WW2) my sense is that the US had a far greater depth and degree of advantage over others in terms of 1: Nationalistic sprit 2: natural resources 3: financial resources than we do now.
Now? We have a financial “rival” and potential military adversary in China whom we have largely financed and will certainly continue to. We are not especially at war with the ChiComs but we are not especially at peace with them.
We have a permanent intractable adversary in the form of radical Islam. Again, we finance them and we coddle them; in terms of the destructive technology they have absorbed, they have ceased being 9th century desert barbarians. (They still retain that perspective in all other respects) But my point is that they are a permanent enemy.
So when I total up the depletion in our overall resources PLUS the idea that we have a full-on enemy (or two) looking to damage us, I wonder if only say 70% of what the US had available to it remains available to generate our internal prosperity.
And now I add in the idea that traitoriousness is now a virtue, that roughly half of our elected leaders are looking to deteriorate our overall living standards, to shove the country back 70 years in technoogical status, and I wonder again, what’s left? (no pun intended) To scatter our wealth among low-wage intruders from Mexico to no end other than to achieve their own re-election, and to permanently disable our own poorer citizens from seeking any level of aspiration beyond...[insert blatantly racist charactierization here] and what do we have to work with?
Meanwhile, it’s corny to be patriotic, we’ve placed our energy resources out of our own reach and looted much of our savings to prop up the banksters.
I ask again, when does the guy holding onto the rail of the sinking ship heed his own internal “abandon ship” voice?
Dumb Cheerleaders trick
They say that the Euro, the Yen, the Yuan or some “basket” containing all the above will become the currency of world commerce replacing the tired old Dollar. The only problem is that none of those have the full faith and backing of the people of the United States.
One international hiccup and they would come tumbling back to the Dollar.
“national strength is still measured by the underlying hardiness of the patient its demography, culture, and institutions “
Uh, David, that’s just where we’re hurting like we never have before.
Happy New Year!
By adding over 720 legislative seats to their column in the past two years, Republicans easily cleared the 1994 expectations bar.There are 99 state legislatures. Every state has two except Nebraska which has a unicameral legislature, i.e. a single house, IIRC.
Republicans now control the entire legislature in 25 states, 11 more than they had going in to the 2010 elections...