Millennialism has a very long pedigree; it seems that almost from the time Man first became aware of his own mortality, concerns about the end of the world have been a recurrent theme during stressful times. Our current times are no different. Millions of people are convinced the world will end because of our sins against Mother Earth (AGW) while other millions are convinced we have begun an inexorable decline in the West; Mark Steyn is one of the foremost proponents of the view that the West has lost its traditional strength as it has surrendered its traditional values:
If I am pessimistic about the future of liberty, it is because I am pessimistic about the strength of the English-speaking nations, which have, in profound ways, surrendered to forces at odds with their inheritance. “Declinism” is in the air, but some of us apocalyptic types are way beyond that. The United States is facing nothing so amiable and genteel as Continental-style “decline,” but something more like sliding off a cliff.
In the days when I used to write for Fleet Street, a lot of readers and several of my editors accused me of being anti-British. I’m not. I’m extremely pro-British and, for that very reason, the present state of the United Kingdom is bound to cause distress. So, before I get to the bad stuff, let me just lay out the good. Insofar as the world functions at all, it’s due to the Britannic inheritance. Three-sevenths of the G7 economies are nations of British descent. Two-fifths of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are—and, by the way, it should be three-fifths: The rap against the Security Council is that it’s the Second World War victory parade preserved in aspic, but, if it were, Canada would have a greater claim to be there than either France or China. The reason Canada isn’t is because a third Anglosphere nation and a second realm of King George VI would have made too obvious a truth usually left unstated—that the Anglosphere was the all but lone defender of civilization and of liberty. In broader geopolitical terms, the key regional powers in almost every corner of the globe are British-derived—from Australia to South Africa to India—and, even among the lesser players, as a general rule you’re better off for having been exposed to British rule than not: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados?
I tend to agree with part of Mark Steyn's thesis. I do believe that the Anglosphere has done more to create and enlarge Western Civilization, including the emphasis on the Rights and value of the individual, than any other "tribal" grouping on the planet. Further, if America, "the shining city on the hill", falters, it is likely we will enter an extended period of barbarity; amid material wealth, th individual we be devalued, entrenched elites will become more and more authoritarian, and behavior between nations and between ethnic and religious groups will devolve.
One of my favorite lines from the Declaration of Independence never made it into the final text. They were Thomas Jefferson’s parting words to his fellow British subjects across the ocean: “We might have been a free and great people together.” But in the end, when it mattered, they were a free and great people together. Britain was eclipsed by its transatlantic offspring, by a nation with the same language, the same legal inheritance, and the same commitment to liberty.
It’s not likely to go that way next time round. And “next time round” is already under way. We are coming to the end of a two-century Anglosphere dominance, and of a world whose order and prosperity many people think of as part of a broad, general trend but which, in fact, derive from a very particular cultural inheritance and may well not survive it. To point out how English the world is is, of course, a frightfully un-English thing to do. No true Englishman would ever do such a ghastly and vulgar thing. You need some sinister rootless colonial oik like me to do it. But there’s a difference between genial self-effacement and contempt for one’s own inheritance.
Steyn's essay includes many of the well known tropes; we are losing our initiative, agency, and resolve as we increase our dependency on government; we are too easily ceding our hard won freedoms in favor of a stultifying conformity and PC; we are financing our own demise; our elites have completely inverted our principles and values. His conclusion is sobering:
In our time, to be born a citizen of the United States is to win first prize in the lottery of life, and, as Britons did, too many Americans assume it will always be so. Do you think the laws of God will be suspended in favor of America because you were born in it? Great convulsions lie ahead, and at the end of it we may be in a post-Anglosphere world.
His essay is a wonderful read, high level Apocalypse porn if you will, and everyday we see new evidence of the failure of our governments, our academics, our business leaders, and our opinion makers to stand up for those core values that have created and bequeathed to us this great nation an great Civilization. Yet, I think Mark Steyn, to paraphrase Wolfgang Pauli's famous comment, "may not even be wrong."
The Steyn article is merely prologue.
Zenpundit, Mark Safraski, answer the question, "What was the best book you read in 2010" as follows:
As my criteria for “best” will be the book with ”most profound idea” then….the winner is…..The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter. As I wrote recently:
A superb academic book, previously featured and reviewed in the blogosphere by John Robb and Joseph Fouche, The Collapse of Complex Societies embarks upon a critical examination and partial de-bunking of theories that purport to explain the “sudden” fall of great empires, such as Rome or the vanishing of the Mayans. With caveats, Tainter settles on declining marginal returns from increasing societal investment in complexity as a rough proximate cause capable of subsuming a ” significant range of human behavior, and a number of social theories” under it’s rubric. Highly recommended.
Tainter’s was the most important book I read this year.
In his review, John Robb noted:
If your interested in a very smart perspective on system collapse, please go read the anthropologist Joseph Tainter's book, "The Collapse of Complex Societies" (I've been a big fan of his work for ages). In the book, he makes the compelling case that complex societies are, at root, very successful problem solving systems. If they weren't, they would never have become complex in the first place. Why? Societies solve challenges by creating new rules and processes (new complexity) that are then added on to the existing system ad infinitum. More successful outcomes = more complexity.
John Robb is quite pessimistic for our current system but has some thoughts about a possible resolution. Joseph Fouche points out some of the drawbacks in Tainter's approach. I do not have the strategic depth of understanding or the background of these excellent bloggers, however there is much in the Tainter book that is worth discussing. The book is information dense and fascinating; reading it is some work but rewarding.
In the next few weeks I will discuss some of my impressions of this important work and hopefully will be able to add some Psychological insight to the discussion.