There are people sent to depress us, and prominent among them is Mark Steyn, whose speciality is apocalyptic predictions. Following his bestseller America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It, which was about the collapse of all of the Western world with the exception of the United States, he is now predicting the collapse of the US as well, leaving the entire ‘free world’, as it used to be called, at the mercy of those great enemies of freedom, China and Islam. He writes:
There will be no ‘new world order’, only a world without order, in which pipsqueak failed states go nuclear while the planet’s wealthiest nations are unable to defend their borders and are forced to adjust to the post-American era as they can.
In the case of Britain and other European nations, this will mean turning away from the United States and subordinating whatever values they have left to those of Islam; for they will not only be dependent on Muslim countries for their economic survival but also in thrall to an ever larger population of Muslims at home. Meanwhile, in a United States that may disintegrate for lack of any binding purpose,
what’s left of the republic will hunker down and finally understand what it’s like to be Israel … a beleaguered citadel in a world that wants to kill it.
A strident conservative crusader, Steyn blames America’s grim fate on itself, for replacing its faith in individual enterprise and responsibility with a system of popular dependency on a bloated central government. That government has spent so much money on cosseting and regulating the citizenry that the interest it pays to China on its debts is enough to finance China’s entire defence budget and more. According to Steyn:
When money drains, so does power. The British learnt that the hard way, even as theirs drained to the friendliest of successor powers across the Atlantic in Washington. Today, money is draining across the Pacific. They have our soul who have our bonds.
Steyn relates America’s fate closely to Britain’s. He quotes a line by Thomas Jefferson from the Declaration of Independence that never made it into the final text, one in which Jefferson’s parting words to his British cousins across the water were: ‘We might have been a free and great people together.’
And Steyn sees Britain’s subsequent cession of power to the United States as just a moment of transition in 200 years of benevolent Anglophone world hegemony. Such is his admiration for Britain’s past that he regards even the British empire, now a favourite target of British ‘anti-fascists’, as an unqualified force for good. ‘Insofar as the world functions at all, one can easily make the case that it’s due largely to the British inheritance,’ he writes.
But then, as he sees it, Britain suffered a moral collapse of a kind that now threatens America:
There was no rational basis for modern Britain’s conclusion that it had no future other than as an outlying province of a centralised Euro nanny state dominated by nations whose political, legal and cultural traditions are entirely alien to its own. The embrace of such a fate is a psychological condition, not an economic one.
Half the Tory party would agree with that, but Britain’s psychological condition had a much worse effect than its membership of the European Union, one that Steyn now sees being repeated in America. This was the abandonment of independence, self-reliance and individual freedom for a resentful subservience to a bossy and intrusive government. The British have become
a people mired in dependence turning into snarling Calibans as the national security state devotes ever more of its resources to monitoring its own citizenry.
Britain is home, he says, to a third of all the world’s CCTVs.
Americans’ loss of spirit and sense of national identity (‘We are obsessed with identity, but any identity other than “American” — female, gay, African-American, Muslim-American, Undocumented-American’) have sapped the country’s energy and ambition, he says. America’s spectacular advances in fields such as medicine and space exploration have ground to a halt.
And the twin towers destroyed on 9/11 are to be replaced by a Muslim centre and a hole in the ground:
After two-thirds of the City of London was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666, Wren designed and rebuilt that capital’s tallest building (St Paul’s), another 50 churches, and a new skyline for a devastated metropolis. Three centuries later, if you seek our monument, look in the hole.
It goes without saying that Steyn despises Barack Obama ‘because he’s the first president to be marinated his entire life in a post-modern, post-American cultural relativism’.
We were waiting for a man who would have been unthinkable as the leader of a serious nation until our civilisation had reached such a level of bland bovine prosperity it truly believed that the platitudinous nursery chants it teaches our children as a substitute for education are now a blueprint for government.
Steyn is an exhausting writer, not to everyone’s taste, but he enlivens his gloomy theories not only with verbal pyrotechnics but also with countless entertaining examples of the new statism at work — the regulations restricting the sale by housewives of home-made pies, for example, the ban on a hardware shop offering free coffee to its customers for having the wrong coffee-making equipment, or the number of permits (30) and inspections (23) required before you can open a restaurant in New York. He tends to overlook what remains impressive about America, especially its world leadership in information technology, which is nothing if not a tribute to its innovative drive. And as for Steyn’s predictions, they represent the worst possible of any number of different scenarios.
Admittedly, America is not what it was. But it’s far from finished yet. And the New York revival of South Pacific now touring England had me spouting the words of ‘A Cockeyed Optimist’, sung in the musical by Nellie Forbush, a Navy nurse, in the dark days of the second world war:
I’ve heard people rant and rave and bellow
That we’re done and we might as well
But I’m only a cockeyed optimist
And I can’t get it into my head.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated November 5, 2011Tags: America, Book review, Non-fiction, World politics