In times of plenty, the weeds find life easy. The trouble is weeds flourish at the expense of everything else so the times of plenty are self-limiting. This is especially true in human society. In good times the soft and sneaky can be tolerated so they flourish, corrupting society over time until either some crisis requires reform or that crisis overwhelms the society.
Steppe people like the Mongols understood this. In fact, the genius of Genghis Khan was in truly understanding the dynamic. The hill people would raid the valley people because they were tougher and meaner. But, they would soon settle down and become soft and stupid like the people they conquered. In a generation or two a new hill people would come along and the cycle would repeat.
In America, a culture evolved in a world without fear of invasion. That’s an important thing to understand about America. It is a continental people with an islander’s mentality. Sure, Indians were some threat, but from the start the colonists knew who was on the winning side of history. It did not take long before the people understood it was their destiny to conquer the continent.
Internally, the country evolved with various cultural groups jostling with one another for influence. This natural competition for resources (land) made everyone better, bolder and more aggressive. For a country evolving at the dawn of the money era, a culture that rewards risk taking, creativity and experimentation is an enormous asset.
Think about it. The country comes into existence in 1789 and roughly 100 years later knocks off Spain and steals many of her overseas possessions. In four generations a collection of farmers and tinkerers was on the cusp of being the mightiest economic power in the world, with a military soon to follow and match it.
From the Civil War forward, America was becoming a land of abundance without any natural enemies. Sure, the Europeans could make war on American shipping or cause financial mischief, but there was no fear of being invaded or having land taken by force. The result was a ruling class that imagined no risk premium for policy decisions. No matter how boneheaded the policy, there’s no perceived downside.
The Civil War is a great example to use here. It was entirely unnecessary, but made possible by the understanding that America had no reason to fear outside threats. Europe could fund one side on the other. Europe could muck about in American shipping and finance, but there was no worry that some outside power would take advantage of the war and seize Ohio.
That was the lesson of 1812. The young country could be boarded by pirates from over the horizon, but those pirates could only cause mischief, not sink the new country. Eventually, their supplies would be exhausted and they would flee or die. Therefore, two groups of fanatics within America could tear into each other in a bloodbath over slavery. The group of fanatics that won were left with an ecosystem to flourish in which there were no natural enemies.
That’s largely been the story of the last 150 years in America. For fifty years after the Civil War, Public Protestantism slowly morphed into Progressivism, mostly through various reform movements. With the rest of the country flattened by war, the old Yankee Protestants had no natural enemies and were free to outgrow the restraints of religion, through the Social Gospel and finally the Progressive Movement. By the time Europe was ready to commit suicide, American was a growing industrial power run by fanatics convinced it was their destiny to reshape the world in God’s image.
Again, without any substantial threat from outside, this mode of thought could flourish without consequence. If the Europeans had not tried to obliterate themselves in two great wars, America probably would have evolved into a slightly violent Canada. Instead, the massive void left by the implosion of Europe allowed the world’s remaining power to become the world’s dominant power.
The Pax Americana has been good for the world, but it has not been without consequence. In America, it has resulted in a warped political culture in which one side is always on the prowl for some new enemy in the world on which to unleash the world’s dominant military. The other side is turning over every rock domestically for any signs of the South rising again. Like a teeter-totter, one side dominates for a while and then descends while the other side rises.
This is fine as long as America and the West, over which America presides, are safe and secure militarily and economically. The Europeans have been able to indulge in one social welfare scheme after another because they have relied on American military might to keep them safe. Similarly, America has built an elaborate and dysfunctional domestic social structure because the dollar is the world’s currency. King Offa would be proud.
Nothing lasts forever and everything that must end eventually does end. Europe is now being invaded from the south at the same time that elements of her own population are becoming hostile to the developing social arrangements. If you scour the international press, you find a lot of signs that the natives are getting very restless. No people has flung open the doors to invaders without there being violent, transformative consequences.
In America, the South has finally rebounded and become as economically and culturally strong as the rest of the country. We are a generation away from there being a real challenge to the dominant mode of thought. Progressives can look at a map too and that’s why they are in a panic, hoping to flood the hinterlands with migrants in an attempt to dilute the opposition. Alex Tabarrok wants to fill your neighborhood with foreigners because he fears you more than he fears them.
Internationally, the economic arrangements are being challenged all over, with the currency arrangements running out of steam. Central banks are keeping the whole thing from collapsing, but the international appetite for maintaining the dollar as the reserve currency is waning. When that ends, the cost of Progressive rule in America will no longer be exported abroad through currency manipulation.
We are in the down side of a very long cycle that is now heading for an end. At the same time, what is bringing about that end is the first real external threat to Western Europe in centuries and the end of America’s economic dominance of the world. The dream of global government where ruling elites are untethered from national loyalties will never materialize. It is at odds with human biology. What comes next will be a settling of the greatest threat to civilization since the Black Plague. This time the plague walks on two feet and demands to go on the dole.