Via Drudge and US News & World Report, Mort Zuckerman says western civilization is almost done. Who knew?
First, he gives a little very cursory history:
“The modern world has for centuries been dominated economically, intellectually, and physically by the civilization that arose in Western Europe in the wake of the Renaissance and Reformation and spread across the Atlantic.”
An historian Zuckerman is not. The “civilization that arose in western Europe” and “dominated”, blah blah, existed before the Renaissance and the Reformation. It would be fairer to say that it “arose” out of the ruins of Rome. This was so commonly understood as recently as, say, 70 years ago that all higher learning (meaning after grade school), everywhere in Europe and even in the US required a working knowledge of Latin – a long dead language – for the simple reason that it had been the language of Rome. It was a natural homage to our ancestry, and a reminder of the true roots of western civilization. How soon we forget.
But I digress.
He then goes on to describe the debt to GDP ratio blah, blah of western nations. (I won’t do the blah blah thing anymore). And it’s bad. Who doesn’t know that?
So that’s “myopic self-indulgence”. Of course. Beyond that, money is the “great corrupter” of “American Democracy”. This, coming from a billionaire.
Then there’s this:
“Developed countries will be forced to deal with their debt on every level, from the personal to the corporate to the sovereign. Being able to borrow may have made people feel richer, but having to repay the debt is certainly making them feel poorer, particularly since the unfunded liabilities that many governments face from aging populations will have to be paid for by a shrinking band of workers. (Ecoutez, mes amis!)
Demography is destiny. As a result, there is a burgeoning consensus that we are witnessing an inevitable rise of the East and a decline of the West.”
What is Zuckerman looking for? “Leadership” with the “will” and the “moral authority” to “govern” in the “long-term interest of the country”.
Not a lot of content there.
But this is a great example of mainstream media unspoken values and assumptions. To take just one example, demography may indeed be destiny, but must we assume that birth rates in the west will perpetually remain as low as they are now? In the 1950’s, birth rates this low would have been unthinkable. Now, birth rates at 1950’s levels are unthinkable. But a decade or so of 1950’s birth rates now would be a real game changer down the line, and there’s nothing impossible about that. Yet there’s this underlying assumption that this kind of demographic trend cannot reverse itself, even though it just did.
Another unstated assumption is that “leadership” will provide the remedy. He means political leadership. But historically, political leadership has not been that important. The 20th century was an anomaly. In that century political leadership assumed gigantic proportions, prompting gigantic wars, among other things. That anomalous trend is fully exhausted, which should have been clear to any student of history in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The strong trend in the west, from about the middle of the 19th century to about the middle of the 20th, was political concentration and centralization. The strong trend as the 20th century drew to a close shifted to political decentralization. We’re well along in that process now. It has its good points and its bad, I suppose, depending on what side of the fence you’re on, but that it’s a firm trend should be obvious. I personally approve of the trend. Zuckerman does not. Neither of us can change it.
The fact that I am amenable to trend whereas Zuckerman is hostile to it, portraying it in lurid doom & gloom terms, is simply reflective of our relative social positions.