Wednesday, January 06, 2010

I see nothing that troubles me in that example

Jim Fallows of the Atlantic has a nice long piece about people, ahem, like me who worry too much about the decline of American power. Fallows is of course correct that this is an old song, and the verses don't even change that much. (Hey kids, remember Japan?) But he and I agree that while America could be saved by the things that make it great, it is doomed by its politics.

Fallows uses this line at one point to provide some context:
Nearly 400 years of overstated warnings do not mean that today’s Jeremiahs will be proved wrong. And of course any discussion of American problems in any era must include the disclaimer: the Civil War was worse.
Ah. Um. Yes, that sure puts me at ease. The fact that American politics has already collapsed once, in a fashion so complete and violent that it was the most deadly human conflict in history until 1914, sure proves the pessimists wrong. This system is clearly up to the challenges of the 21st century, despite the fact that it really wasn't up to the challenges of the 19th.

With optimists like this, I should hang up my laptop.

1 comment:

shani said...

Hmm... how to put this.

The Civil War was bad.

The dozens-to-hundreds of cultural collapses/demolitions that enabled the growth of the United States in the first place was worse.

It's still pretty buried in national discourse, I suppose (hard for me to gauge, because I was raised by liberals and history buffs), but I've always felt that American paranoia/apocalyptic thinking has a simple reactive logic to it. When you built your house out of your predecessors' bricks, keeping an eye out for bulldozers just makes sense.

Not to say I'm thrilled to live in a probably-sliding society, but it's also hard to believe anyone knows exactly how we'll decline (and which kinds of social stagnation have doomed us) when our whole history has been unexpected and idiosyncratic.