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The lone and level sands stretch far away

Tom Engelhardt:

I don’t know what it felt like to be inside the Roman Empire in the long decades, even centuries, before it collapsed, or to experience the waning years of the Spanish empire, or the twilight of the Qing dynasty, or of Imperial Britain as the sun first began to set, or even of the Soviet Empire before the troops came slinking home from Afghanistan, but at some point it must have seemed at least a little like this -- truly strange, like watching a machine losing its parts. It must have seemed as odd and unnerving as it does now to see a formerly mighty power enter a state of semi-paralysis at home even as it staggers on blindly with its war-making abroad.

The United States is, of course, an imperial power, however much we might prefer not to utter the word. We still have our globe-spanning array of semi-client states; our military continues to garrison much of the planet; and we are waging war abroad more continuously than at any time in memory. Yet who doesn’t sense that the sun is now setting on us? ...

he feelings that should accompany the experience of an imperial power running off the rails aren’t likely to disappear just because analysis is lacking. Disillusionment, depression, and dismay flow ever more strongly through the American bloodstream. Just look at any polling data on whether this country, once the quintessential land of optimists, is heading in “the right direction” or on “the wrong track,” and you’ll find that the “wrong track” numbers are staggering, and growing by the month. On the rare occasions when Americans have been asked by pollsters whether they think the country is “in decline,” the figures have been similarly over the top. ...

It’s not hard to see why. A loss of faith in the American political system is palpable. For many Americans, it’s no longer “our government” but “the bureaucracy.” Washington is visibly in gridlock and incapable of doing much of significance [except give trillions of our money to the banksters, destroy the Constitution, foment more wars, and impoverish us], while state governments, facing the “steepest decline in state tax receipts on record,” are, along with local governments, staggering under massive deficits and cutting back in areas -- education, policing, firefighting -- that matter to daily life. ...

Theoretically, none of this should necessarily be considered bad news, not if you don’t love empires and what they do. A post-imperial U.S. could, of course, be open to all sorts of possibilities for change that might be exciting indeed.

Right now, though, it doesn’t feel that way, does it? It makes me wonder: Could this be how it’s always felt inside a great imperial power on the downhill slide? Could this be what it’s like to watch, paralyzed, as a country on autopilot begins to come apart at the seams while still proclaiming itself “the greatest nation on Earth”?

I don’t know. But I do know one thing: this can’t end well.

Il faux cultiver notre jardin. Especially if we wish to eat.

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jumpjet's picture
Submitted by jumpjet on

For all the demonization of snakes that occurred in Western Culture with the advent of Christianity, there is one image that has always persisted as positive: the ability of the snake to shed its old skin, emerging renewed and refreshed.

I feel as though that's what this nation is going through right now. The old skin, our current order, has grown confining and dry, unable to allow us the freedom of movement and success that we are capable of. It has already died, and is now coming off the body politic. Underneath it, the new skin, fresh and slick, yearns to be exposed to the air. It's soft and tender now, but with air and light it will grow strong and allow us to regain our old capability.

All nations shed their skins in time, and the process is long and difficult. But everything I have read and seen these past few months has convinced me that the United States' new skin is going to be sturdy and radiant. There is a better future coming beneath the rot of the old skin.

cal1942's picture
Submitted by cal1942 on

your optimism and I know the decline and chaos following collapse can ruin multiple generations.

Renewal is not guaranteed and in the chaos of unraveling the direction may not be toward an enlightened revival. Who knows what demagogues will seize control.

DCblogger's picture
Submitted by DCblogger on

It was in the dying days of the Empire that the British Labor party replaced the Liberal party and the UK got the National Health Service. And it was after WWII with the Empire well behind them they the had the cultural flowering that gave us the Beatles, Rolling Stones, David Lean, Ian Fleming, Alan Sillitoe, Diana Rigg, Elizabeth Jackson, and a host of others.

On the other hand in Spain the rot went on for centuries, until Franco finally kicked the bucket.

It would be really awful if we were like the French or Russians where the ancien regime collapses into something still more bloody.

cal1942's picture
Submitted by cal1942 on

began by wondering what it felt like to be living in the Roman Empire during its decline.

Over the past few years I've brought up that very theme while talking to patiently accommodating friends. It goes something like ... I wonder if a few guys in togas sat around discussing the growing rot and decay around them ...