Thoughts on the American Empire and Its Decline

The American Empire is deteriorating. It’s been going downhill for decades. The descent is likely to continue, alleviated irregularly by policies that retard the decline or even reverse it for a time.

The general pattern set by declines of previous empires is occurring in this country. There have been at least 215 empires in the last 5,000 years. They have all declined and fallen, as will the American Empire.

The IDEA that there is an American Empire is not widely recognized by the general public. It’s not taught in the public school’s history books. Scholars still debate it. American leaders spread other myths like exceptionalism that obscure the concept and prevent the public from realizing it.

If the public doesn’t grasp that there is an American Empire, they cannot understand the idea that this empire is declining and headed for greater and greater failure.

The difficulty in understanding both empires and their decline is their complexity and variation within type. Several factors are present operating concurrently, and this obscures causation. No two cases are exactly the same.

An article by J.R. Fears suggests the theory of Herodotus. It’s a starting point. He endorses the theory of Herodotus. The pertinent passage is this:

“Herodotus believed that there were invariable laws to the rise and fall of empires. Empires rose and fell—as they still do today—because of individual decisions made by individual leaders.

“The greatest mistake made by those in power, like Darius, was the sin of hybris. That Greek word means ‘outrageous arrogance.’ Hybris (and that is the way it should be transliterated) is the outrageous arrogance that marks the abuse of power. Only those invested with enormous power can commit the sin of hybris. Hybris is the imposition of your will, at all costs. The Greeks believed that hybris was preceded by ate or moral blindness that makes you believe that you can do anything you want to and there will be no consequences from either Gods or men. It was this hybris that led Darius to undertake a preemptive war against Athens. It was his moral blindness that believed he would never know defeat. He ignored all the warnings that the Gods sent him because he felt so secure in his power.”

He then asserts that this factor has been operating in America since the fall of the USSR in 1990.

This is a helpful theory. It focuses on the empire’s leadership and their decisions. It examines why they make erroneous decisions that undermine the empire: abuse of power, arrogance (hybris or hubris), attempts to impose one’s will no matter what the costs are, and a moral blindness underlying the desire to dominate and impose one’s system. The hybris and belief in one’s own superiority and rightness lead the leaders to ignore all warnings and evidence to the contrary.

There is a necessary condition for the empire to be vulnerable to decline, which Fears pinpoints: “Only those invested with enormous power can commit the sin of hybris.” The empire cannot decline and fall unless the political system has already concentrated enormous power at its apex, in just a few men or even one man. Misuse of power can’t occur without the power being present. This is a fault of the American system of government. The checks and balances have failed. The check provided by the American public and electorate has failed. Power is concentrated at the top.

This concentration of power is a necessary condition for failure. Is it sufficient? Does the very concentration of power induce the hybris? Does that concentration of power attract the most arrogant candidates as prospective leaders? There is an excellent chance that it does, in which case the system selects the very men and women most likely to cause its downfall.

Why does the concentration of power occur? This is not hard to understand (see here and here). It is inherent in the political dynamics of any government except self-government that has continuous accountability.

Why does moral blindness occur? Why do men think themselves to be gods? The seed of this failing is always present in human beings. Why does it take root and grow? Does the concentration of power itself enhance the corruption as Lord Acton thought? Perhaps so. But I suspect that there is more to it. When the empire rises and its political power increases, there is an accompanying alteration in how religion and philosophy are thought of. Power and domination exercised by mortals come to be greatly respected, feared and even venerated. Religion and philosophy are deformed or newly-invented to suit the empire and its striving, and this feeds back to encourage and support moral blindness in which men and the empire replace gods.

This process permeates society, which is being weakened in any event by the undue exercises of power from the political center. Consequently, a deterioration in morals sets in that is driven both by the perverse economic incentives caused by the empire’s power being applied perversely and by religious-philosophical concepts that in one way or another rationalize and support the empire.

There is yet more to the story of an empire’s decline and fall.

The knowledge of truth and the desire for truth are casualties of the processes of power growth, power concentration and power misuse. The competition for power sees to that. This competition ignites corruption that permeates the system. Rivalries come to the fore. Sectarian proponents routinely lie, mislead, twist the truth and propagandize. Independent sources of truth are bought off and become shills. Truth is suppressed and distorted. Confusion rises.

Growth in power of the empire accompanies more legalities and more attempts at controlling matters that are best left alone and uncontrolled. Consequently, the enormous powers of the governing bodies of the empire can no longer be managed rationally by the central leaders. Even the actual administration of these powers by underlings and bureaus cannot be known or managed by those at the top.

Given the complexity and the overly broad scope of government, leaders necessarily are prone to make mistaken decisions. The distortion and/or absence of truth has an independent negative effect on decision-making. Leaders even come to believe their own fabrications.

Some leaders will appear to be and actually be rash as they attempt to cut through the fog. Others will appear to be and actually be indecisive, wavering, inconsistent and dithering. Some candidates for the leadership will offer extreme remedies as solutions to control what are processes out of control. Others will offer simple-minded remedies that betray their ignorance of what’s actually going wrong and why it’s going wrong. Yet others will counsel war and more war or else demand even greater powers.

America today is subject to these processes of decline. They are irreversible. They are built into the system.


8:01 am on October 21, 2015