More on Declining Empires
Mary has an excellent post below on why certain societies fail while others survive. Many people have looked at this issue from a number of different perspectives. William Marina a history professor and Research Fellow at the Independent Institue has a different view that complements the ideas in Mary's post. He has looked at empires and includes the present US in that category.
His main premise is:
What is less understood is that all of the great empires in history have been characterized by a decline of reason and an increase in super-naturalist faith, combined with a belief in the empire with the emperor holding God’s “mandate” on earth.
One of the activities that occur during a decline in reason is book burning/censorship of books. He notes that although everyone is aware of Hitler's efforts in 1933, the practice goes back to the great Ch'in Emperor, Shih Huang-ti of imperial China in 221 B.C. Shih Huang-ti ascended to the throne of Chin which was a powerful feudal state in northwest China. Aided by espionage, bribery, and war he annexed other states and declared himself emperor.
During his reign, Shih Huang-ti destroyed the existing feudal structure and divided the empire into 36 provinces under a centralized administration. Networks of roads and canals were engineered, and the major part of the Great Wall was built. Weights, measures, coins, and written characters were standardized in a quest for cultural uniformity. Yet this also led to the burning of all books that diverged from official Chin philosophy and history. His autocratic rule and belief in magic had caused such resentment that the Chin dynasty collapsed four years later, even though it formed the model for all later dynasties. ......Link
During the 4th century the strength of Christian groups was growing as the Roman Empire was in decline. Constantine thought that the survival of the Roman Empire would require formally merging with and centralizing Christianity. (Charles Freeman’s recent book, The Closing of the Western Mind: The Rise of Faith and the Fall of Reason details the way in which this took place.)
There had already been a rise of mysticism in the Greek Empire phase of classical civilization, led by Pythagoras against Ionian empiricism, and later this same irrational process was repeated in Rome. What was left of Roman “science” declined as “faith” rose to be preserved and carried to the West later by Islamic civilization.
Mr Marina notes that religious zealotry has long been a part of American imperialism going back to the Spanish-American War during which over 200k Filipinos were killed. The missionaries wanted to expand their efforts into China, and after President William McKinley supposedly communed with God, McKinley indicated we should take the Philippines and “Christianize” and “uplift” the natives there.
Later, President Woodrow Wilson would extend this missionary mentality to the entire world during and after World War I, and the catastrophic repercussions are all too with us yet today!
Well lets look at Mr. Marina's main premise stated above and how it might apply to the US over the last 20-30 years or so. First I think there has been a clear trend in the decline of reason. This can be seen in attacks on science especially regarding evolution and the politicization of scientific agencies, such that the "truth" is no longer defined by the scientific process but by ideology. This is coupled to Mr. Marina's second factor, an increase in super-naturalist faith. Thus, we see groups attempting to get creationism or intelligent design taught in the school systems. We see the smashing of the separation between church and state and government policy based religious faith, e.g. ban on certain stem-cell research. Finally, Mr. Marina's third factor is a belief in the empire with the emperor holding Gods "mandate on earth. Clearly this administration believes in the concept of "empire" and that the US has a right to protect "its interests" no matter where on the globe that is. A majority of the population back this approach, although there was a great deal of deception used to sell it to the general population. We have read many times how Bush believes that he has God's ear when making his decisions and we have read supporting statements by many fundamentalist leaders. Mr. Marina does uncover an amazing quote from Pat Robertson: God's blessing is on him [GWB]. It's the blessing of heaven on the emperor
So why does this lead to further decline in the empire and if left unchecked its ultimate collapse? I think it is that the decline in reason coupled with an increase
in faith, religious or other, leads to a point where the leaders become divorced from reality. They make their decisions based on what they "believe" rather than on reality based on empirical evidence. Thus, we see economic and foreign policies being made and implemented based on "belief" without concern for their impact on a "fact-based" reality.
Mr. Marina relates the now famous quotes from Ron Suskind's NYT article "Without a Doubt".
Ron Suskind recounts a conversation with a senior Bush adviser in the summer of 2002, who noted that people such as Suskind were “in what we call the reality-based community.” When Suskind attempted a reply, the adviser replied: “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. . . . We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
There you have it in a nutshell. There is no reality other than what we create. Therefore, the laws of economics do not apply. Hundreds of years of diplomacy and international law do not matter. What matters is what they say. They construct reality and force it on the rest of the world.
To me this is delusional and arrogant. There is a reality that can be influenced by ones decisions. But in essence wishing something doesn't make it so. It is obviously arrogant since it assumes that it is only our "reality" that matters. Everyone else must give up theirs and accept ours.
An empire or country which bases its decisions on such a delusional arrogant way of thinking cannot survive as is, reality will eventually rear its ugly head and other countries and peoples who don't share your delusional world will work to tear down the empire/country.
The remaining question is: What are the ultimate costs for this delusional path we are on?