Some Historical Bromides Reconsidered Through Mort Zuckerman & USNWR

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.

At least, that’s what Judge Posner and Judge Jacobs would say.



Filed under financial crisis

3 responses to “Some Historical Bromides Reconsidered Through Mort Zuckerman & USNWR

  1. You’re savaging a guy who used to go steady with Gloria Steinem. This probably explains a lot about both of them.


  2. There you go bringing the CIA into it. If we now mention Bill Buckley we get the hat-trick.

    That’s what you were doing, right?

    By the way, what led you to this rather obscure post of mine? Obscure even to me, I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ha! Honestly, this is the first that I’ve heard of the “hat-trick,” although I think I see how it works. I guess I’m just not in the loop on the geopolitical parlor games.

      I found this post by searching your archives through Google. I think I was searching for essays on demographics or something similar.

      I wasn’t looking for Mort Zuckerman, but I can’t be sure that Mort wasn’t looking for me. I don’t usually give any thought to him. I’ve watched him a few times on the McLaughlin Group, where he occasionally warms one of the two conservative seats on the panel, and the only things I really noticed about him there were, first, that he tended to say things that weren’t particularly objectionable but were also a bit vacuous and self-serving, and, second, that he had a New York accent so posh that it was almost British, although to be fair it didn’t sound affected like the one deployed by our buddy Mr. Buckley.

      The thing about people like Zuckerman and Steinem is that their privileged behaviors and associations create a disconcerting synergy in the aggregate. If Steinem were just an impractical feminist zealot with little interest in family life as a sort of virtue, she wouldn’t be all that remarkable. If Zuckerman were just a billionaire gasbag who enjoyed shouting matches on the McLaughlin group or just a daft magazine publisher who liked to inflict three-page essays full of shallow economic and geopolitical nonsense on his readers or just a guy with a ridiculously posh New York honk, he wouldn’t be all that remarkable. The X factor is that he’s all of these things and and also an ex-boyfriend of Gloria Steinem’s. All of this is an X factor for Gloria Steinem as well.

      Here’s the other thing: Their crowd likes to believe, and would very much like the rest of us to tacitly accept, that an aristocracy leavened with occasional meritocratic accidents will bring about enlightened policy. Mort Zuckerman, after all, is a gentleman of refinement, the publisher of a distinguished national news magazine. Instead, it brings about Mort Zuckerman editorials and Gloria Steinem’s recent efforts to concern-troll prostitutes in India, since she, the former live-in girlfriend of a major American publisher, can’t imagine how these third-world women are able to fend for themselves without her help. It brings us barfworthy frauds like Megan McArdle, the daughter of a major behind-the-scenes influence peddler in the New York City building trades, who presumes to lecture us all on the virtues of failure.

      In isolation, I often find the things said and done by people of their privileged ilk somewhere between annoying and repulsive. When I’m able to connect the dots and see how deep and wide the corruption goes, I realize that there’s no way in hell that I can countenance these people or dignify their leadership with any concession of its legitimacy. It’s like the whole country has followed the gaslight into a Twilight Zone episode where the town’s civil society has been taken over by dimwitted sinecure holders related to the local industrialists and it’s considered tactless to point this truth out.

      That’s why I look behind the curtain every now and then. It isn’t pleasant, but it’s civic.


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