Memo to Mark Steyn: America is not the Titanic. Our decline is not a done deal. This country can sail through the present storm and into favorable seas again, if enough of us will just man the pumps and not the lifeboats.
In his latest book, "After America: Get Ready for Armageddon," the brilliant and prolific Steyn, a Canadian now living here, warns that the USA is headed for the graveyard of nations unless big changes occur soon. Can it be so?
Plenty of trends and symptoms bear out Mark’s concern over the “impending collapse” of American society. But along with my amen to his alarm, I want to say a sharp nay to any sense of fatalism that Uncle Sam is finished. No way.
It’s true things are grim. The ennui of the elites, the demographic data, the debt crisis, the downgrade, the gridlock in Washington, the demonizing of Tea Party reformers, the drift in American foreign policy, the dynamism of China, and the expansionism of Islam all suggest that our nation, like its parent civilization in Europe, may be a sinking ship.
Steyn’s introduction to "After America" refers to his previous bestseller, "America Alone," this way: "Last time ‘round, I wrote that Europe was facing a largely self-inflicted perfect storm that threatened the very existence of some of the oldest nation-states in the world. My warning proved so influential that America decided to sign up for the same program but supersized."
The longer Obama stays, the truer this seems. Nor would his departure brighten the picture much, for the real problem is less political than spiritual, as Alexander Tytler and John Glubb could attest.
Tytler, an 18th century Scottish thinker, observed that the average age of the world’s great civilizations is about 200 years. They go, he said, “from bondage to spiritual faith, from spiritual faith to great courage, from courage to liberty, from liberty to abundance, from abundance to complacency, from complacency to apathy, from apathy to dependence, and from dependence back into bondage.”
In 1976, Glubb, the British historian and soldier, published "The Fate of Nations," his own analysis of the decline syndrome. He gave a slightly longer lifespan – 250 years – but laid out a life cycle similar to the one portrayed by Tytler, ending with an age of decadence brought on by “selfishness, love of money, and the loss of a sense of duty,” and marked by “defensiveness, pessimism, materialism, frivolity, an influx of foreigners, the welfare state, and the weakening of religion.” It sounds all too familiar.
Indeed both characterizations bear remarkable resemblance to the trajectory of American history. And, if the window for great nations to commit moral and fiscal suicide is about 200 to 250 years, America at age 235 is right in the kill zone. You’d have to be dreaming not to recognize, as Steyn does, that we live in a nation that has for quite a while been somewhere on the declining side of the cycle. But a pattern isn’t destiny and a trend isn’t irreversible.
At the Western Conservative Summit in Denver several weeks ago, it happened that I spoke on the renewal agenda in my new book, "Responsibility Reborn," just an hour before Mark Steyn regaled the audience with a chilling yet hilarious riff on the declinist warnings in "After America." But were we at odds? No.
Steyn’s inspiring close, invoking the motto of his adopted state of New Hampshire, “Live free or die,” and the defiant spirit of Flight 93, “Let’s roll,” heartened me with the assurance that Mark is no more ready to give up the ship than you and I are. Both of those rallying cries, like the ten-word keynote of my book, “If it is to be, it is up to me,” remind Americans of the opportunity to control our own destiny through personal responsibility and voluntary initiative.
Neither the dependence that Tytler said leads to bondage, nor the denial of duty that Glubb saw as fatal, can be remedied by legislation or elections. Changing the occupant of the Oval Office won’t suffice to avert the self-inflicted Armageddon that Steyn sees coming. Nothing short of citizens one by one looking into the abyss and then into the mirror, and vowing “Not on my watch,” will begin to remedy the responsibility deficit and break the entitlement addiction that’s killing us.
But break it we can. America has been here before, remember. Written off by declinists in the 1970s, she came roaring back in the ‘80s after responsibility was reborn in the heartland. All of us are crew members on this voyage, not just passengers. Decline is a choice, as Charles Krauthammer has pointed out. With everything that’s in me, I choose against it. How about you?
John Andrews, former president of the Colorado Senate and current director of the Centennial Institute, is the author of "Responsibility Reborn: A Citizen’s Guide to the Next American Century" (MT6 Media, 2011).