The View From 1776
Saturday, July 18, 2009
The Long, Agonizing Decline of the United States
We are following the downward path of Great Britain, one of the two greatest of Western history’s empires.
We can draw several cautionary lessons from the history of our British cousins. Of all the world’s nations we and the UK are most similar, both in our rise and in our decline.
In addition to sharing the English language, our whole constitutional ethos and legal system derive from the British constitution and from the common law. Ours are the principal nations that made the sovereign’s right to taxation subject to the will of the people expressed in Parliament and our state and national legislatures.
Most especially, ours were the only nations that arose upon the primacy of private property rights. It was this fundamental element of natural law that, more than anything else, accounted for English and American individualism. It was an ethos that the German Empire’s Iron Chancellor Bismarck contemptuously dismissed as a society of shopkeepers, as opposed to the Prussian landed aristocracy. It was, however, an ethos that twice bested the statist collectivism of Continental Europe in world wars.
Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (published in 1776) demonstrated that wealth and higher standards of living emanated, not from the political state, but from the sum of individuals working in conditions of political liberty, most especially private property rights.
Underlying the whole was Protestant Christianity, here and in England, that dictated that each individual soften his heart and seek the wisdom of God via the Holy Spirit. In life’s most fundamental aspect - being a good citizen, hewing to moral principle, and doing the right thing - Christianity relegated the national state to a subordinate role.
The root cause of Great Britain’s decline and of ours is the disavowal of Christianity and the adoption of the secular, materialistic religion of socialism.
Socialism upends the individualism, self-reliance, and moral imperative of the Christian ethos, transferring all of it to the political state. Individuals, burdened by huge taxes and trained over the generations to look to the government for everything, become passive and focused almost exclusively upon personal sensual gratification.
Peace at any price is rationalized under socialism’s phantasmic vision of world government administered by councils of intellectuals, whose superior knowledge (materialistic gnosticism) will bring about harmony among all peoples, ending crime and war.
Families and personal responsibility decline in frequency and importance, to be replaced by sexual promiscuity, drug abuse, and unmarried mothers with morally untethered children. Crime rates rise, personal saving declines, and people become wards of the political state, believing that they are entitled, without regard to personal effort, to a share in all of society’s goods.
Great Britain’s history limns our future.
By the time of the Napoleonic wars after the French Revolution, Great Britain had far and away the world’s greatest navy, which both protected the empire and kept open the world’s sea lanes of commerce. In 19th and early 20th centuries, more than 50% of all world trade was carried in British ships; London was the world’s undisputed financial capital, and the greatest city in the world; Great Britain’s was the greatest empire since that of Rome and, by far, the largest ever in geographic extent. Unlike other modern empires, however, it was based, not on military conquest of land, but upon control of world commerce.
The period of England’s greatest strides in wealth creation and rising standards of living occurred before the Victorian era’s drive to expand the Empire around the world. Of course, addition of India and other Asian parts of the Empire increased wealth enormously, but already government was beginning to supplant the individualism that came to prominence in the Elizabethan era.
England was bled close to economic death by World War I. She lost roughly one million young men to the battlefield cemeteries of the Continent. In the 1920s there were not enough sons to learn and to carry on the entrepreneurial individualism of England’s smaller, family owned companies that were the basis of her economy. Premature efforts to return to the gold standard in the 1920s and thereby to reclaim London’s place as the world financial capital came up short.
Labor union unrest in the 20s, then the Depression in the 1930s, led to triumph of socialism after World War II. Labor unions, an iconic element of socialist mythology, introduced intractable wage rigidity, so that British industry was unable to reduce production costs to levels sufficiently competitive to allow resumption of England’s traditional economy of world trade. Along with labor unions’ imposition of ever-upward wage costs and wage rigidity came steadily rising unemployment and inflation.
People lost confidence in their destiny, sapped by the one-world phantasm of the socialist international, and preferred a role of increasing passivity.
In fundamental respects, our Vietnam War experience and the rise of socialist labor unions under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal paralleled England’s early steps down the slope of decline.
Just as Tocqueville reported in post-Revolutionary France, under socialism people become self-centered and care only about their entitlements dispensed by government. They will endure any degree of tyranny and loss of political and economic liberty, so long as it is imposed in the name of social justice, i.e., equality and world-government. This ethos is fit only for subordination to more vigorous and self-confident nations.