"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Mark Steyn and the Speed of Decline

The Regular Wife and I were at a wedding last night and it happened that one of her cousins -- who is even more of a right wing curmudgeon than I -- was reading Mark Steyn's new After America.   Since it had just arrived at the Regular Guy's mailbox too, we had a lot to talk about and a grand time was had by all, except any liberals within earshot (luckily, we don't have many, at least not in the Omaha side of the family).  

Anyway, one of Steyn's themes is the misplaced complacency of Americans.  We take for granted the civilization that previous generations passed on, thinking that we still have plenty of time to fix the economic problems we have.   His point:  we don't.   Time is running out.   As Steyn points out, while Rome wasn't built in a day (one of my mother's favorite expressions), Rome can fall in not much more than a day:
Most citizens of advanced western democracies haven't read Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, but they figure they get the general idea.   The "decline" bit of the title suggests you've got a bit of time before you get to the "fall," and actually, given that he took six volumes and covered a millenium and a half, that may be all the time you need.   In fact, once the key elements were in place, the fall was very swift.  By the time Odoacer took Rome in 476, the city's population had fallen by 75 percent in barely half a century -- or the equivalent of the Beatles to now.   Within a few years, a prototype "globalization" of European commerce had reverted to a subsistence economy of local agriculture.
Steyn makes much the same point about England in an essay today on NRO
The great-grandparents of these brutes stood alone against a Fascist Europe in that dark year after the fall of France in 1940. Their grandparents were raised in one of the most peaceful and crime-free nations on the planet. Were those Englishmen of the mid-20th century to be magically transplanted to London today, they’d assume they were in some fantastical remote galaxy. If Charlton Heston was horrified to discover the Planet of the Apes was his own, Britons are beginning to realize that the remote desert island of Lord of the Flies is, in fact, located just off the coast of Europe in the north-east Atlantic. Within two generations of the Blitz and the Battle of Britain, a significant proportion of the once-free British people entrusted themselves to social rewiring by liberal compassionate Big Government and thereby rendered themselves paralytic and unemployable save for non-speaking parts in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. And even that would likely be too much like hard work.
We're not quite to the Lord of the Flies moment in America, although there are pockets of our inner cities where I wouldn't be surprised to see a pig's head on a stick.   But we're not that far away.   And I think it could come much faster here than it did in Roman days.   Rome didn't have an interconnected, web-based, fully networked society.   Crash our networks, and Americans will be staggering through the streets like zombies.   To wit:  my backyard friend and I often muse about what would happen if our electrical grid crashed for an extended period of time (we've had a number of storm-related outages in the past few years).   He thinks within a week or two it would be "a war of all against all" for food.   So he's made plans -- he has a very sophisticated generator to run his home electricity, and he also has a fairly extensive gun collection.    For the rest of us, well, let's hope we don't get there.



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