Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Is Anglo-US Culture an Augury of Decline and Fall?

I was intrigued by Larry Elliott's Monday piece on the Decline of the American Empire. He ran through the depressing economic statistics- nearly 10% unemployed, one in six supported by food satmps, a huge government deficit- and flagged up the traditional American optimism that the biggest economy in the world with the best universities, will be able to ride these troubles and emerge on top as ever before. But Elliott deploys the analogy of the decline and fall of Rome, as chronicled by the master historian Edward Gibbon. He enumerates the similarities between the fall of Rome and indeed, the decline and fall of the British empire:

The experience of both Rome and Britain suggests that it is hard to stop the rot once it has set in, so here are the a few of the warning signs of trouble ahead: military overstretch, a widening gulf between rich and poor, a hollowed-out economy, citizens using debt to live beyond their means, and once-effective policies no longer working. The high levels of violent crime, epidemic of obesity, addiction to pornography and excessive use of energy may be telling us something: the US is in an advanced state of cultural decadence.

He points out that such decline is late to be recognised: in the case of Spain it was Britain who challenged; in the current case of the USA, it is China which challenges. We all know power has been shifting to the east for well over a decade but I was fascinated to see the parallel drawn between the augury of Rome's bread and circuses together with its imperial self indulgence with our own culture of fast food, reality shows, infantilised sexuality, celebrity vacuity and the rest. So are we all unwittingly living in the twilight period before the walls of our civilisation come crashing down? I do hope not.

Rome as a "super power" perhaps 600 years following the "Punic" wars

Spain as a "super power" 300 years?

Britain as a "super power" probably 100 years at most.

I think the writing is on the wall for the USA. I can't see it maintaining its "super power" status much beyond 2020 so perhaps 75 years in total.

The fear is.. will it make way for China without a devastating war -WWIII?
Agree with your time spans. So far China and US have avoided any open conflict but I think they are sufficiently cautious to avoid an outbreak of war. Unless we get another scion of the Bush family in the White House!
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