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America can still rejuvenate itself: Some of the visionary founding fathers of the US depicted by John Turnbull in a detail from "The Declaration of Independence" 

How often do we hear the word "decline" applied to America, Europe and the West? The rhetoric of decline has become a staple of our public discourse, so much so that most hardly notice when it crosses the line from rationality to fantasy. The distinction is important and easy enough to apply. If a commentator claims that "Europe is in demographic decline", he is making a statement about a statistical fact — birthrates across much of the European continent have indeed been falling for many years — which can be quantified, verified and tested. If, on the other hand, a commentator claims that "America's decline is inevitable", he is making a whole series of assumptions that are based, not on facts, but on what I call the mythology of decline. I want to examine the origins and purposes of that mythology in order to help us to distinguish the legitimate use of the term "decline" from the mythological one, which invariably serves an ideological agenda — what we may call declinism. And if my analysis serves to clear the somewhat fetid atmosphere that pervades this debate, in which self-fulfilling prophecies of American decline abound — if I can hasten the decline of declinism, in other words — then that is a job worth doing.

Let us begin with Gibbon. Had the author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire not written such consummate prose, had he not dared to laugh the sacred to scorn and elevate the profane to respectability, perhaps his unwieldy work would not have enjoyed classical status almost from the day of publication of the first volume. We have been meditating on the possibility of our own decline and fall ever since. If Gibbon saw in Rome a parable of the perils of religious enthusiasm — the church having first undermined, then supplanted the state — his intellectual posterity extended his paradigm to create a romantic cult of decline. 

It was as natural that the Enlightenment should view imperial decline as a consequence of irrationalism as that the Romantics should blame rationalism for the same phenomenon. As the 19th century wore on, thinkers seized on novel forces they saw emerging in their own day to explain decline: Malthus identified demography, Tocqueville democracy, Buckle climatology, Marx capitalism, Gobineau race, Nordau urbanisation. Everybody had a different terminus post quem, or starting point for decline: Newman dated it from the Reformation, Kierkegaard from the early Church,  Nietzsche from ancient Greece, Bachofen from the end of matriarchy, Freud from the dawn of civilisation. In this age of progress and optimism, decline was actually ubiquitous. In biology, Darwin had described the descent of man from the primeval slime, in physics Clausius and Kelvin had described the irreversible entropy of the universe in the second law of thermodynamics, and in metaphysics Schopenhauer had described life as "a business that does not cover its costs".

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Lord Truth
February 28th, 2012
3:02 PM
Doc says,as of course most Americans believe, that The Founding Fathers..Constructed a government that strictly limited power, and divided it three ways... In fact the American system of government is merely an exact copy of the British system existing in 1776.There is a House of Commons..the Repressentatives,AHouse of Lords..the UNELECTED Senate (unelected until 1919) and a King whose powers are almost exactly those of George III His abilities to act are very limited as were GIII except for going to war.All discussion used the name King until it was realised that King was inappropriate for an elected monarch and President was chosen instead George III was a constitutional monarch and although Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence,laughed at the rubbish he wrote about GIII being a tyrant ..saying I had to write something... much harm has been done over the years by those foolish lies Americas present problems come from copying the original British system producing endless blockages of political movement. In Britain where suspicion of the monarchy was endemic ,the monarchs powers were gradually stripped away until when Victoris arrived in 1837,she had only the power to choose the head of the military, a power removed a few months later.Since that time all British monacrchs have been little more than cardboard figures their ultimate power of refusing to sign an Act they found repugnant easily forestalled by forced abdication or changes to the constitution.America is still living in 1776. I have often thought that American politics that the world generally regards as boring would instantly spring to life if the Americans used the word King instead of President.Then the real picture would fall into place and everything become clear.

Paul Harmon
November 3rd, 2011
11:11 PM
Very good Doc. I agree with you completely.

November 3rd, 2011
10:11 AM
Minor quibble-The PLA missles would most likely be aimed at the US 7th Fleet (Western Pacific) instead of the 6th Fleet (Mediterranean)

November 2nd, 2011
5:11 PM
I like your optimism, and I hope you're right. However, we are a wicked people, and we get the gov't we deserve. I don't think the Founders '...trusted in the good sense of the American people.' They trusted in God, most of them, and they knew that people are basically wicked, not basically good. So they constructed a gov't that strictly limited power, and divided it three ways. Besides allowing a branch of gov't that had not descended as far into wickedness to block the wicked designs of another branch, it plays the wickedness of one branch against the other, often resulting in a most laudable gridlock. “No Man’s life liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session” (Twain; possibly apocryphal). Unfortunately, eventually We the People succeeded in emulating the Israelites of old. They rejected the prophet Samuel, insisting on having a king. Here they had a direct line to God for any problem, and they wanted a king instead. One assumes that they were not all witless. Therefore only being in a state of denial can explain their demand for a king. Likewise, We the People have inherited our own Book of the Law; not God's Word itself, which is not after all a document directly prescribing a form of gov't, but the Constitution, which was clearly largely influenced by the knowledge of human nature granted by the Scriptures. And, like the Israelites, we have rejected it. At one point the Israelites completely lost their Book. We have not lost ours; rather We the People have allowed and encouraged our legislators to trample it into the dust, honoring it with their lips while their (and our) hearts are far from its principles of strictly limited gov't. We may bounce back. But it's hard to see how we can avoid the equivalent of societal meltdown. Raising taxes sufficiently to meet even a fraction of the 'entitlement' costs in the coming years will only ruin the economy further, resulting in less tax income, not more. Cutting the 'entitlement' payouts sufficiently to substantially ease the budgetary strain would have to be draconian enough that we might as well end them and be done with it. But without a growing economy to provide the employment and entrepreneurial opportunities the poor so desperately need, that way lies disaster. Plus, ending the entitlements is so politically unacceptable that hardly anyone except a few Libertarian and Constitution party 'cranks' even mention it. Rare is the politician willing to state the obvious, to point out that the Emperor has no clothes, that the 'entitlements' (SocSec, Medicare, Welfare, etc), as well as a whole vast swathe of other nearly untouchable Fed agencies (EPA, OSHA, FDA, ATF, etc, etc) are grossly unConstitutional. If we are granted a revival of common sense by the Lord, and we flock to the standard of the Constitution, and we insist that our legislators end the bureaucrazies that throw, not sand, but boulders into the gears of the economy of the Republic, then we might successfully grow our way out of this. Otherwise, this does not end well.

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