Sunday, December 30, 2012

Is America in Decline a la Rome?

Is America, following the Roman empire, in terminal decline? That's the question the NJ Star-Ledger recently asked. The editors conclusion: "Yes, we are slipping." "The fiscal cliff stalemate

is a symptom of something larger. What we are witnessing today may be remembered as the early stages of America’s decline. If you put aside national pride for a moment and take an honest inventory, that sobering conclusion is hard to avoid.

The editors lament that "The foundation of the American Dream — the promise that a person born at any station can climb the economic ladder through hard work — has atrophied." therefore, we should put "aside the chest-pounding about American exceptionalism," they say, forgetting that American exceptionalism embodies individual upward mobility. Instead, we need an "adult conversation" about how to fix global warming, the wealth gap, more government investment, etc.

Here are my brief comments:

America is in terminal decline because, like the Roman Empire, it has abandoned the ideas upon which it was built.

America was built upon certain philosophical principles; individualism, inalienable individual rights, self-interest (the pursuit of happiness), and limited, rights-protecting government. It has been replaced by collectivism, egalitarianism, a "right" to the wealth of those who make more, self-sacrifice, and the regulatory, redistributionist welfare state. It's no coincidence that America's weakness coincides with a government that has grown to its most controlling ever, capped by the rampaging statism of the past 12 years.

Rather than respect for personal achievement, we get envy manifested in the phony hand-wringing over a "wealth gap." Rather than extol successful businesses, we get attacks on those who successfully compete based on voluntary trade in the marketplace (see the Economist article on the internet "big four" opposite this editorial). Instead of urging our students to use their education for the purpose of making the most of their own life, we tell them that service to others is the moral ideal. Where we once understood rights to mean freedom of action to pursue our own happiness, we now subverted rights to mean a claim on wealth taken from others, with government as the hired gun. Where we once respected property rights and the right of people to spend and invest there own earnings as they see fit, we now have a government that seizes ever-greater chunks of our wealth, to be doled out to politically-connected special interests for someone's notion of some tribal "greater good," and call that "investment." Where once egoism and reason drove our culture to ever-greater heights of industrial and standard-of-living  dominance, we are now crumbling under the debilitating weight of altruism and pragmatism.

No, "we are not destined to follow the path of the Roman Empire." But we will, if we do not rediscover the ideals that made America America. There is no better place to start than with the Declaration of Independence. What might that greatest-of-all documents tell us? That the "spark" that lies at the heart of American exceptionalism--and, indeed, of all human progress, anywhere--is the liberated individual freely pursuing his own goals, values, and happiness in a culture of freedom of production and trade.

1 comment:

Steve D said...

'America is in terminal decline because, like the Roman Empire…'

I would probably say that we’re like the Roman Republic not the Roman Empire, although there are similarities to both historical periods. The same fate may be in store for us. Who will be the American Caesar or its Cicero, I wonder?