Sunday, December 6, 2009

America: The Case for Pessimism

Last month, Larry Auster reflected on the descent of America under the Obama Administration, and wrote...

I have said many times that liberalism is doomed, and that the only question was whether liberalism would die before it had destroyed our civilization, thus allowing the civilization to live, or after it had destroyed our civilization. I am now tilting to the latter, more pessimistic view: liberalism is so deeply entrenched in Western institutions and in the souls of Western people that it will not come to an end until after it has destroyed our civilization, and, by destroying the civilization, destroying itself.

I sent him the following email in response...

Like you, I've been "tilting" toward the "pessimistic view" about the future of American civilization. Indeed, my only source of optimism is the fact that most Americans - even now - pay tribute to the ideals and values of our Founders - even though they don't act on those principles (exhibit A: electing Barack Obama as President).

But lately, even that thread of hope is withering away for me. Even in an almost best case scenario - say, Obama is repudiated and loses in 2012 - we'll still end up with a morally and intellectually bankrupt Republican Party led by a Bush-clone like Mitt Romney or Tim Pawlenty. They might slow the decline, but not reverse it. We no longer as a nation seem to have the type of leaders in either Party who have the intellectual and moral commitment to the Christian/Enlightenment ideals that made our country great.

With that in mind, last night I came up with the following analogy for America: America is like a 50-year 400-pound man who just survived his second heart attack (the first being 9/11, the second being the Wall Street Crash of '08).

The man was once a great athlete (indeed, a professional athlete), but during his playing days he got by on talent alone and never reached his full potential (in America's case, we've been getting by on talent alone for generations, never bothering to understand our founding ideals and traditions).

The man (and America) spent decades eating junk food, refusing to exercise, drinking too much alchohol, even dabbling a bit in naroctics. Now, in middle age, the man (and America) are being told: You MUST change your lifestyle or you will die; if you follow our regimen, there's an excellent chance you'll survive."

The man - laid up in his hospital bed - says, "You're right. I need to do better. And I will do better. If I did it once - as a young man - I can do it again."

But here's the thing: While the 50-year old man might be sincere, given his decades of bad habits, would you really trust him to make good on his promise?"

I wouldn't.

And here's the saddest thing of all: In the year 2009, while most Americans DO think something is fundamentally wrong with the direction of our country, there's no real consensus on what to do about it (it would be like having 4 or 5 doctors, each suggesting doing radically different things).

Would you trust this man to reach his 55th birthday, never mind live a normal lifespan?

I expect there will be a major breakdown in U.S. civilization in the next 4-10 years. The USSR analogy is a good one. But sadly, I don't trust our leaders in DC to be as peaceful as Gorbachev was when it comes having their authority challenged. There will be a contest of wills. The few of us out there who still love our country will be challenged more than we ever thought possible.


Justin said...

I was just reading about some revolutions yesterday. I don't think revolutions are possible unless people are hungry, literally hungry. I think you are still too optimistic, thinking we could have some change, soon. Real pessimism is what I am coming to: accepting that there is no limit to the slow decline into poverty and tyranny we are facing.

The big show won't stop until the bread and circuses run out, and I don't see any shortage of bread and circuses out there.

Todd White said...

I think revolutions can occur without that level of privation…Look at the Communist Bloc from 1989-1991, for instance. There was no starvation, but there was definitely economic stagnation and political tyranny. In some ways, democracies are especially vulnerable to revolution during economic instability. In democracies, citizens are usually very demanding and have high expectations for progress. But when that progress goes into reversal for a few years, the people get violent. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Bolshevik Russia, and Franco’s Spain all took over from democracies, for instance.

The people I trust on economists – the people who predicted the crisis – are pretty much in agreement that this crisis will deepen and drag on for years. That makes the prospect of a major social breakdown very likely. The more interesting question for me is: What comes next? One source of optimism is that the military is a fundamentally conservative institution, and if push comes to shove, and the military had to take over, it may bring to power a collection of true conservatives who can get our country back on track, without the interference of corrupt politicians in both parties. But we’ll see.