Mark Steyn: Health Care Reform Could Lead to Global CollapseRoundup: Media's Take
Sometimes you do live to see it. In my book America Alone, I point out that, to a five-year-old boy waving his flag as Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession marched down the Mall in 1897, it would have been inconceivable that by the time of his 80th birthday the greatest empire the world had ever known would have shriveled to an economically moribund strike-bound socialist slough of despond, one in which (stop me if this sounds familiar) the government ran the hospitals, the automobile industry, and much of the housing stock, and, partly as a consequence thereof, had permanent high unemployment and confiscatory tax rates that drove its best talents to seek refuge abroad....
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 become 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 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, noninterference 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 percent 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....
Okay, since you ask, here’s my prediction: American decline will not be like France’s or Austria’s. For one thing, we don’t appreciate how unusual the last transfer of power was. If you’re not quite sure when that took place, the British historian Andrew Roberts likes to pinpoint it to the middle of 1943: One month, the British had more men under arms than the Americans. The next month, the Americans had more men under arms than the British. The baton of global leadership had been passed. And, if it didn’t seem that way at the time, that’s because it was as near a seamless transition as could be devised — although it was hardly “devised” at all. Yet we live with the benefits of that transition to this day: To take a minor but not inconsequential example, one of the critical links in the Afghan campaign was the British Indian Ocean Territory. As its name would suggest, that’s a British dependency, but it has a U.S. military base — just one of many pinpricks on the map where the Royal Navy’s Pax Britannica evolved into Washington’s Pax Americana with nary a thought: From U.S. naval bases in Bermuda to the ANZUS alliance Down Under to NORAD close to home, London’s military ties with its empire were assumed by the United States. Britain’s eclipse by its transatlantic progeny is one of the smoothest transfers of power in history — and unlikely to be repeated.
Now look beyond the Anglosphere. Why did decline prove so pleasant in Europe? Because it was cushioned by American power. The United States is such a perversely non-imperial power that it garrisons not ramshackle colonies but its wealthiest “allies,” from Germany to Japan. For most of its members, “the Free World” has been a free ride. And that, too, is unprecedented. Even the few NATO members that can still project meaningful force around the world have been able to arrange their affairs on the assumption of the American security umbrella: In the United Kingdom, between 1951 and 1997 the proportion of government expenditure on defense fell from 24 percent to 7, while the proportion on health and welfare rose from 22 percent to 53. And that’s before New Labour came along to widen the gap further....
And overseas? If America becomes Europe in its domestic disposition and geopolitical decline, then who will be America? Of the many competing schools of declinism, perhaps the most gleeful are those that salivate over the rise of China. For years, Sinophiles have been penning orgasmic fantasies of a mid-century when China will bestride the world and America will be consigned to the trash heap of history. It will never happen: As I’ve been saying for years, China has profound structural problems. It will get old before it gets rich....
So there’s no plausible new kid on the block? Isn’t that good news? Not exactly. Much of the timing of American decline depends on Beijing, which will make the final determination on such matters as when the dollar ceases to be the world’s reserve currency. Given that they hold at least the schedule of our fate in their hands, it would be rather reassuring if they had the capability to assume America’s role as the global order-maker. But they don’t and they never will. The most likely future is not a world under a new order but a world with no order — in which pipsqueak states go nuclear while the planet’s wealthiest nations, from New Zealand to Norway, are unable to defend their borders and are forced to adjust to the post-American era as they can. Yet, in such a geopolitical scene, the United States will still be the most inviting target — first because it’s big, and second because, as Britain knows, the durbar moves on but imperial resentments linger long after imperial grandeur....
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? To return to the young schoolboy on his uncle’s shoulders watching the Queen-Empress’s jubilee, in the words of Arnold Toynbee: “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”
comments powered by Disqus
Stephen David Shenfield - 2/8/2011
What was life like for ordinary working people in Britain in 1897? Do you know? Do you care? Once a country has a national health service and other social reforms, few want to go back to the old days! What on earth do you hanker after great empires for? If the British empire was so bloody marvelous, why did you Americans undermine it by declaring independence?
Constance Goforth - 4/1/2010
The key for Obama is to package things in an attractive manner... For the price of liberty, you get not only healthcare reform, but a National ID card!
Interesting to see the resistance building though: http://rubylee1776.wordpress.com/2010/03/31/big-brother-demands-to-see-your-national-id-card/
- Craig Shirley says Ted Cruz is right and the Huffington Post wrong about Ronald Reagan’s 1980 Presidential Campaign
- Mystery at Notre Dame: A priest-historian has been forced to back off a project promoting authentic Catholic education
- William & Mary launching a gay history project
- "I teach the largest gay and lesbian history class in the country."
- Another year of declines in history enrollments