Tuesday, March 13, 2012

After America by Mark Steyn

After America by Mark Steyn is another one of in a long series of books detailing America's decline and looming destruction. I loved it! It's the lighter, wittier version of Ameritopia. If you only read one, figure out if you want the philosophical underpinnings of America explained or if you want the hyperbolic wit from a foreigner's perspective. I think they make a great set.

He begins by laying out the fact that we are broke. Already. Not some looming future brokeness or possibility of default, but actually, factually, broke. He uses a metaphor from Daniel to say that after partying too hard, the writing is already on the wall. Stating facts and figures to show how the interest on the national debt will be our undoing, Steyn gives the alarming fact that by 2020, only 8 short years away, the interest on the debt will consume 15-20% of federal revenues up from 9% today. Unsustainable.  He sums up the depressing prologue with a great quote from economist Herbert Stein, "If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." That stop will be painful, but it is inevitable. We WILL stop borrowing and spending one way or another.

Steyn starts off right away in Chapter One stating that we are in fact already in decline. We are not going to decline or face the possibility of decline, we are in decline, but just don't realize it yet. He brings up things like our lack of innovation. A visitor from 1880 would be amazed to see the technology of 1950, but perplexed to see the lack of forward movement between then and now. In fact, Steyn quotes a professor stating that he believes the reason we haven't returned to the moon is because we can't! We have lost our ability to innovate. We have been overwhelmed by bureaucracy that has frozen all technical creativity in its stifling labyrinth of rules. See: 911 memorial.

In our decline, we have become a nation of children, wholly dependent on a benevolent government. Tocqueville prophesies all too well what kind of a despot could come to rule in a democracy like America. "...it seeks,... to keep [the citizens] irrevocably fixed in childhood... it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principal affairs... The sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations - complicated, minute, and uniform - through which even the most original minds and the most vigorous should know not how to make their way... it does not break wills; it softens them, bends them, and directs them... it does not tyrannize, it gets in the way... and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd." I include such a long quote because no one could say it more perfectly. Tocqueville so presciently saw the danger of a republic, we elect our own despots and they lull us to sleep. Those few who still work and contribute to society do so only to provide for the government's favored classes. It's called "fairness."

Steyn compares us to Greece, the only difference being that they are further along on the path to ruin than we are. They have already run out of people to stick the bill for their welfare state to. And like them, we are disregarding the signs of our decline. The generous collectivism of big government makes the individuals more selfish. Who will give up the goodies for something so archaic as the good of the country? He believes that "Europe's economic crisis is a mere symptom of its existential crisis: What is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-nationalist, post-modern Europe has no answer to that question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them can't make the math add up." The math doesn't add up over here either!

Using H.G. Wells book, The Time Machine, as a prophetic novel of modern America, Steyn begins to show how we have become divided onto two groups - the small, soft, passive, genderless elites, called Eloi, and the more dark, feral underclass, the Morlocks. Our modern Eloi have transferred large amounts of money to the unproductive underclass as a way to avoid thinking about them. We have become rich enough to be stupid. We are rich enough to enjoy the benefits of property while decrying the very things that make prosperity possible. We like our nice cars but distain the oil that powers them. We are rich enough to elect Barack Obama on a such an ephemeral plan of hope and change, who believes, "We are the ones we've been waiting for." We feel good. We don't have to do good. We don't have to grow up. The embodiment of the Eloi that Wells describes is Oscar van den Boogaard, the Dutch gay humanist. Upon seeing the decay of Europe and the rapid Islamization of the Continent, he states, "I have never learned to fight for my freedom. I was only good at enjoying it." Where are the men? Where are those who would fight this decline? They have become the Eloi. Stupidity has a price to be paid eventually. And the jig is up.

Great Empires decline. Britain did. We are following in her path. Global dominance transferred rather peacefully from Britain to her offspring across the Atlantic. They have in fact sunk so low as to seem to have no point whatsoever in global affairs. Steyn states, "American exceptionalism would have to be awfully exceptional to suffer similar expansion of government and not witness, in enough of the populace, the same descent into dependency and depravity." We are following Britain "into the dank pit of transgenerational dependency, a failed education system, and unsustainable entitlements, even as it makes less and less and mortgages its future to its rivals for cheap Chinese trinkets, most Americans assume that simply because they're American they're insulated from the consequences." To have been born an American was to win the lottery of life. It will not always be so.

"As disastrous as the squandering of America's money as been, the squandering of its human capital has been worse." We are failing in more ways than just economically. Jobs and industries are disappearing. Neighborhood are in decay. Education is in the toilet. See: Detroit. We did this to ourselves. We'd like to believe that if we just get the economy under control we'd be fine. Representative Mike Pence debunks this notion. "To those who say we should simply focus on fiscal issues, I say you would not be able to print enough money in a thousand years to pay for the government you would need if the traditional family collapses." Currently the world is dividing into two extremes: the advanced world increasingly centralized where every aspect of life is micro-managed, and the reprimitivizing world. As the book, The Suicide of Reason makes clear, tribalism will defeat the civilized world in the end. We have sown the seeds of our own destruction in our desire for multiculturalism and tolerance.

With the election of Obama, America decided to abdicate our position as a global super power and "city on a hill" for other nations to emulate. "Today we have post-modern, post-great-power rivalry, in which America envies the way the beneficiaries of its post-war largesse have been able to opt out of the great game entirely." We'd like to vote ourselves off the island and be just like everyone else. We begin this process by abandoning our commitment to Israel. "But in leaving Israel to its fate we have told our enemies something elemental and devastating about the will of a decaying West, and of the supposed global superpower." As our foes around the world recognize our decay, we will become the New Jerusalem and finally understand what it means to be the global target of destruction.

Steyn spends an entire chapter describing America after the fall through a letter from the future. Let's just say, it isn't pretty. America has devolved into a balkanized shell of its former self.

Finally he sums up our situation with a chapter entitled, "The Hope of Audacity." We desperately need to become the type of people who make America the type of place where the right thing to do is politically profitable. Remember we did this to ourselves. We cannot blame others for an environment we created that makes it politically expedient to do the wrong thing.

So, what's to be done?

De-Centralize: or as Mark Steyn puts it, "Screw the state. Let's do it ourselves."
Do get out into the real world and see how reality works.

Finally, my favorite - Move to New Hampshire with the Free State Project! The motto in New Hampshire is "Live Free or Die." It sounds like a battle cry. "We'll win this thing or die trying.... But in fact, it's something far less dramatic. It's a bald statement of the reality of our lives in the prosperous West. You can live as free men, but if you choose not to, our society will surely die."

Live free or die.

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