Friday, March 17, 2006

Baking Cakes while Rome Burns...

Chris Bray's comment on our current offensive in Iraq: "An air assault answers the tactical climate in Iraq the way that baking a cake fixes a house fire." (Speaking of fires, here's a report from Iraq about smoldering embers) In between computer crashes, he's also administering a little History 101 to a major historical partisan. (update: Is Operation Swarmer a bust or a sham? [via])

And also in the "baking a cake" category, Kevin Phillips (the lastest in the Fukuyama-Bartlett chain of former supporters of the Bush regime Administration) has done an extensive historical review of declining empires and is worried
In analyzing the fates of Rome, Hapsburg Spain, the Dutch Republic, Britain and the United States, he comes up with five symptoms of "a power already at its peak and starting to decline": 1) "widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay," along with social polarization and a widening gap between rich and poor; 2) "growing religious fervor" manifested in a close state-church relationship and escalating missionary zeal; 3) "a rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a corollary downplaying of science"; 4) "considerable popular anticipation of a millennial time frame" and 5) "hubris-driven national strategic and military overreach" in pursuit of "abstract international missions that the nation can no longer afford, economically or politically." Added to these symptoms, he writes, is a sixth one, almost too obvious to state: high debt, which can become "crippling in its own right."
Obviously, this is not new, but it's good to be reminded that it's not all the fault of the Bush Administration, though it's also very much the case that they epitomize these trends rather than resist them.... Don't Panic, as they say. Be aware and be aggressive.


Anonymous said...

I'd very much like to believe that these "declining empire" signs aren't bad enough to really signal that the USofA is about to enter some kind of Dark Age.

Being only the most casual student of far too many eras of history to "know" any one of them, I've been working on the assumption that what we're facing is more of a series of cautionary signs than real 'impending doom' signals.

The problem, of course, is that is does no good for me to be aware that we might be in trouble. Those with power are the ones who need to be reading this particular roadmap.

Interesting post, thanks!

Anne Zook

Ahistoricality said...

Reading your response, I'm struck by how many of Phillips' markers are perceptual: the first one, for example, cites "public concern" before actual polarization and gap; the second and third (and fourth) are the classic "sky is falling" enlightenment Hegelianism argument about stages of human development being intellectual; Five and six are actual policy issues about which something could be done. Culture is a slippery thing: there's a concrete side to it, but there's also a behavioral/perceptual side which is very vulnerable to modern media "framing".

I'm saving this for a later post, because I need to think it through, but the implications of behavioral science (also this) are rather disturbing when you compare the techniques which "work" to influence behavior with those used by Republicans (and alternately, our high-minded approaches are regularly cited as being very ineffective without very careful framing).