America: Decline & Fall?
February 2, 2014 9 Comments
If, as yesterday’s post argued, America is in many ways modelled on the best of the Roman Republic, the question naturally arises as to whether it will suffer its fate? There is certainly much about which to be pessimistic, and oddly, for an outsider (as I am) one of those is actually the tone of political debate. This may be one of those things no non-American can understand (a bit like the rules of cricket if you aren’t English, or the ‘off-side’ rule in soccer if you aren’t a British man), but to me it seems at times as though each side thinks no virtue at all attached to the other Party; and quite how one runs a democracy when both sides slag each other off in the vilest terms, I can’t quite imagine. I found, for example, much of the language used by the Left about Sarah Palin (whom I rather like) vile and sexist, and, had it been directed at a Democrat woman, those using it would have been the first to criticise it. As for President Obama, he seems a fair bet to make Jimmy Carter safe from being the worst President since World War II by some margin, but to portray him as the anti-Christ and un-American seems to me a bit un-American. However poor he is as a leader, he did get elected by the American people, and they might be more willing to think seriously about what lies behind the rhetoric next time.
The economy, well, that gives cause for concern, and I am with those who think that since Governments don’t create jobs, they should get out of the way of those who do, and create, as far as they can, conditions in which those people can do so. But one would have to be several sorts of fool to ignore the elephant in the room. As long ago as 1960, ‘Ike’ was warning of the dangers of the ‘industrial-military complex’ – and he was no pinko commie. Ike was in many ways a figure the Romans would have recognised; the soldier turned politician/public servant. As a good republican, he recognised the dangers of foreign intervention and high spending on war; that was the beginning of the downfall of Rome.
America, although one would hardly know it in Europe, deserves well of the free world; without it there would be no free world. But America paid, and still pays, a huge price. Those cost of intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has been colossal, and no one can really think it has been worth it. But if, as may be the case, it has made Congress and the People think again about such interventions (think Syria here) then it may well be a lesson almost worth the cost.
The republican virtues include a willingness to serve in the military, and (as the ex-wife of a serving soldier I know this only too well) to pay the price this demands; a free people has to be prepared to defend itself. But it is not a virtue to go abroad to seek new beasts to slay. American needs to remain strong to defend itself and its interests, but too many ill-judged wars like the last two serve only to weaken the economy and the State.
But America has not succumbed to the imperial delusion, even if at times it has been a close-run thing. It remains what it has always been, republican to its heart and mistrustful of imperial ambitions and men on white horses promising utopia. Whatever the shortcomings of its political system, it has not succumbed to the temptations of imperial power, and it has preferred even the messiness of the pork-barrel to the clean lines of imperial autocracy; even if some Presidents have found this inconvenient.
America is the only country in the world founded on a dream. It remains the only country in the world where, if they had the chance, most people would say they would live if they did not live where they do. So, for all its problems, I do not see that America will go into some decline & fall – it has within its democracy tough roots, deeply planted in fertile soil; and its people remain, despite the worst attempts of some of its politicians, the most enterprising, entrepreneurial and energetic resource any great country could wish to have. Sure, the skies get dark at times – but westward ho, the sky is bright.