12/2/2010 – J. Robert Smith –
It’s coming. Expect it. Liberals blaming everyone and everything but themselves for the nation’s continuing economic crisis. And the mounting crisis of government. It’s already begun, in fact, over at U.S. News and World Report, where Mortimer B. Zuckerman dusts off Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West to mull over the notion that the West — including the United States — may be reaching the end of the line.
Let’s congratulate Zuckerman for pointing the way in the coming attempt to foist blame on Western civilization for what is, essentially, a failure of leftism. Let’s acknowledge, though, that Zuckerman appreciates that the United States and Western nations can no longer sustain profligate government. But Zuckerman’s angst is misplaced. American and Western civilizations deserve no general indictment.
Leftism deserves the indictment. The left’s failure — here and abroad — may just prove stupendous, and that’s something that American liberals and European socialists can’t abide. Hence the coming compassionate redistribution of fault.
If the United States and the West ever decline and are eclipsed, the root cause will be the failure of peoples to throw off and marginalize leftism — intellectually, culturally, and politically. Leftism is a cancer that needs to be excised; doing so is critical in restoring societal health, here and in Europe.
The immediate crisis isn’t with Western civilization, however; it’s with a deviant strain in the West called leftism. Leftism’s fullest manifestation is in the state. Leftism is deviant in that it’s a marked departure from the notions of natural rights, individualism, and liberty that germinated in the Renaissance, began flowering during the Enlightenment, and reached a fuller realization in American civilization with American independence. Leftism is a denigration of the highest virtues of western life.
[Spengler’s] thesis was that civilizations had an underlying trajectory, an organic rise and fall; his metaphor was to compare the stages of this process to the stages of our seasons…. In the 19th century we were, he suggested, in the winter of the West, witnessing the triumph of materialism, socialism, and money and that the era of individualism, liberty, and humanitarianism was nearing its end.
Civilizations have an organic rise and fall? Perhaps due to natural cataclysms — widespread and prolonged droughts, floods, earthquakes, and so on. But the rise and fall of many civilizations are the result of free will and choice. Rome fell due in large measure to Roman will (or lack thereof) and fateful choices. The German powerhouse emerging at the dawn of the 20th century was undone by misperceptions and the reckless choice of the Kaiser and German elites for war.
Zuckerman, as he understands Spengler, is right that Westerners began to imperil Western civilization in the 19th century with the embrace of materialism (the rejection of Providence) and socialism (the rejection of natural rights and liberty in favor of collectivism with a practical concentration in state power). Zuckerman is wrong about money, if by that he means capital. The embracing of materialism and socialism has been a choice — a choice that departed from the abundant, demonstrated successes in human freedom, faith, and limited government. These, of course, are the hallmarks of Western civilization — American civilization, particularly.
The global prosperity of much of the 20th century would seem to belie the pessimists, but I don’t think there is much doubt the moral authority of the West has dramatically declined in the face of the financial crisis. It has revealed deep fault lines within Western economies that have spread to the global economy. [Italics added.]
What are the “deep fault lines in Western economies?” What is Zuckerman referring to? Is there something inherently missing in those elements of free enterprise and capitalism that Western economies have retained? Or are the widening fissures that are destroying economies due chiefly to the excessive interventions of governments in marketplaces? To monetary manipulations? Parasitic government? Cronyism? To the centralization of economic decision-making in Washington, Brussels, London, Paris, and Berlin?
The economic crisis that began in the United States toward the close of 2007 had more than one cause, assuredly. But government’s apologists cannot wash government’s hands of its role in precipitating the crisis. The housing boom and bust in the United States, which helped kick off the global economic crisis, was fueled by Washington’s meddling in mortgage lending practices beginning in the 1990s and made worse over time.
The West’s moral authority has eroded to varying degrees, and at varying rates, since near the beginning of the 20th century, with the advent of socialism (fascism and welfarism being variants) and statism. It’s the unmooring from the truth of liberty — in its many expressions — that is undermining the West’s moral authority. Restore the primacy of natural rights and limited government, and the West would go a long way toward restoring its moral clout — and its economic health.
Leviathan governments in the West have relied on the free portions of their economies to feed their insatiable appetites for resources. Big governments have incurred big debts and made extravagant promises of entitlements, thereby ensuring jaw-dropping deficits, all the while gambling that cash-cow capitalism will continue to produce even more cash to meet government obligations — and permit governments to spend and borrow more.
But capitalism and free enterprise have their limits; their shoulders aren’t sturdy enough to indefinitely sustain the ravenous, elephantine governments that perch and feed on them. Nor can capitalism and free enterprise be harassed and stripped of their vitality in the name of fairness and equality and be expected to keep yielding wealth.
Zuckerman notes Western consumers’ taste for debt as a contributor to the current economic crisis. In the United States, where did this indifference to debt originate? Is capitalism’s success in spreading affluence the culprit? Easy access to credit? Perhaps affluence and easy credit have made some contributions to the debt problem, but the deeper problem lies in the left’s ethos.
In the 1930s, liberals began to undermine the virtue of thrift in the big-government, big-spending schemes of Franklin Roosevelt. In the 1960s, the counterculture, which was part of the left, challenged — with startling effectiveness — the virtues that had long governed American culture. Out were the old virtues of self-discipline and restraint; in was permissiveness.
The counterculture’s rallying cry was “If it feels good, do it.” Over the decades, that sentiment has seeped into American culture. Is it really surprising that today, Benjamin Franklin’s simple admonition that “a penny saved is a penny earned” is considered quaint?
A last word from Zuckerman: “In the United States, gloom has spread to our policymakers on how to deal with our economic dilemmas.”
Washington’s policymakers are gloomy and lacking because they share a liberal mindset. They can’t reach beyond their beliefs and experiences to reject the left’s failed systems. They cannot embrace what has proven to work and represents the best of Western civilization: liberty and the virtues therein
HT: American Thinker