Why The American Empire Was Destined To Collapse

dollarblowupVia Alternet, author and social critic Morris Berman says that the perverse American Dream made decline inevitable:

The crux of the problem remains the American Dream: even “progressives” see it as the solution — including, I have the impression, the Wall Street protesters — when it’s actually the problem.

The dominant thinking on the left, I suppose, is some variety of a “false consciousness” argument, that the elite have pulled the wool over the eyes of the vast majority of the population, and once the latter realizes that they’ve been had, they’ll rebel, they’ll move the country in a populist direction. The problem I have with this is the evident fact that most Americans want the American Dream, not a different way of life—a Mercedes-Benz, as Janis Joplin once put it. Endless material wealth based on individual striving is the American ideal, and the desire to change that paradigm is practically nonexistent. Even the poor buy into this, which is why John Steinbeck once remarked that they regard themselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” Hence I would argue that nations get the governments they deserve; that the wool is the eyes.

The major evidence is, of course, that this time around recovery is not really possible and that we are going to be eclipsed by China or even Europe. Even a US Intelligence report of two years ago, “Global Trends 2025,” says pretty much the same thing, although it adds cultural and political decline into the mix.

Americans may be very vocal in claiming we’ll eventually recover, or that the US is still number-one, but I believe that on some level they know that this is whistling in the dark. They suspect their lives will get worse as time goes on, and that the lives of their children will be even worse than that. They feel the American Dream betrayed them, and this has left them bitter and resentful.

A friend of mine who is a dean at one of the nation’s major medical schools was very taken by my discussion of Joyce Appleby’s work. He went out and bought her essay, “Capitalism and a New Social Order,” in which she describes how the definition of “virtue” underwent a complete reversal in the 1790s—from putting your private interests aside for the sake of the greater good, to achieving individual material success in an opportunistic environment.

At this point, absolutely nothing can reverse the situation. If every American carries these values, then change would require a different people, a different country. In dialectical fashion, it is precisely those factors that made this nation materially great that are now working against us, and that thus need to be jettisoned. What we need now is a large-scale rejection of the American Dream.

America was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something—the British and the Native Americans, to begin with—and it never abandoned that framework. It doesn’t really have a clear idea of what it is in a positive sense, and that has generated a kind of national neurosis. I mean, we were in real trouble when the Soviet Union collapsed; in terms of identity, we were completely adrift until the attacks of 9/11 (just think of how frivolous and meaningless the Clinton years were, in retrospect). War is our drug of choice, and without an enemy we enter a kind of nervous breakdown mode.

You know, the air is really “thin” in the United States, because the value-system is one-dimensional. It’s basically about economic and technological expansion, not much else; the “else” exists at the margins, if it exists at all. Here’s what the US lacks, which I believe [my new home] Mexico has: community, friendship, appreciation of beauty, craftsmanship as opposed to obsessive technology, and—despite what you read in the American newspapers—huge graciousness; a large, beating heart. In A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis and his colleagues conclude that happiness is achieved only by those who manage to escape the American value-system. Well, the easiest way to escape from that value-system, is to escape from America.

44 Comments on "Why The American Empire Was Destined To Collapse"

  1. Flee the country?

    Nah, gonna stay and fight.

    • Anarchy Pony | Mar 13, 2012 at 3:19 pm |

      Word up yo.

      • Nirvanasteve | Mar 13, 2012 at 8:25 pm |

        You realize that you’d be fighting the equally poor, equally mistreated masses that those in power sic on you, right? I think the best solution may just be to hightail it out of this hole. 

        • Anarchy Pony | Mar 13, 2012 at 8:52 pm |

          Right so you can feel good about yourself while everyone kills each other anyway, and that’s the high ground how?

        • Eric_D_Read | Mar 13, 2012 at 10:16 pm |

          Equally poor, equally mistreated masses!? Do you have any idea  how much cops make these days? And their pension plans and other benefits are ridiculous.

          • Nirvanasteve | Mar 14, 2012 at 12:44 am |

            It would hardly stop at the cops though, now would it? Look at what’s happening in all the Middle Eastern countries — it’s the armies slaughtering their own people. You really think if it came to a civil war the military would not take the side of capitalism, keeping things the way they are democracy? As for you, Mr. Pony, with your theory would you say that one man committing murder is the same as all men committing murder (insert any other crime/generally frowned upon action here) so we may as well all have a go at it? Interesting philosophical speculation but a very weak argument. I would hardly ‘feel good’ about the people in the country I was born and raised in slaughtering each other needlessly but I do not feel inclined to participate in the bloodshed. Those of you who think little of death or men’s lives are just as bad as those who oppress them. 

          • Eric_D_Read | Mar 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm |

            I think police forces have become so militarized that they could crush almost any rebellion without having to call in the “official” military. 

            And if not, there’s always mercs. Slaughtering citizens without the private sector profiteering off it is just unamerican. 

        • If you can make it out of this place, more power to you. As for me (and I fear the majority of the people in this nation), I fear I’m stuck here to the end, so I’m gonna fight in whatever way I can, however small.

  2. The american dream is a big lie, no one can live with just material gains, it needs an real ideal to stand for.

    • The American dream is to get rich. You of course can not be rich unless you are surrounded by poor people, as to be rich is to have more than those around you.
      So the insanity of the American dream is that it is not about success but about ensuring your neighbours fail, for without their poverty you can not be rich.
      So a shared dream which in reality can never ever be shared, as sharing directly contradicts the goal of being rich but a psychopathic nightmare were everyone is trying to screw over everyone else and the biggest winners are the worst human beings, the psychopaths who in the US are worshipped as celebrities.

  3. Anarchy Pony | Mar 13, 2012 at 3:53 pm |

    At the end of the day, every empire is destined to collapse, they are wholly unsustainable, that’s why they expand in the first place, local areas can’t sustain them, so they need more land. They go and conquer some, at expense, but hopefully the conquered gains pay for it. Eventually you reach the point where you can get only a negative return on investment, then you’re fucked.

    • Hadrian999 | Mar 13, 2012 at 4:54 pm |

       the very act of conquering destroys empires, eventually the original source of the empire cannot maintain it , our current empire cannot support the effort required to maintain the empire, military outposts are staffed with non-americans who have no real connection to the source much in the way the roman empire  disintegrated after territorial gains totally altered the demographics of the empire

  4. mannyfurious | Mar 13, 2012 at 4:07 pm |

    Good article. To me it’s a fact that the only thing troubling this nation is our values. We value only the idea of money (not even necessarily money itself, as a good portion of us don’t treat what little money we have with any kind of respect). Community, culture, art, friendship–these things concern us only as far as they can give us the stink of money (i.e. art is only good if it exhibits to others that I have/had the money to pay for it/or, community is only good insofar as everyone is beneath me and looks up to me and is envious of me).

    But, as the author pointed, these values have festered beyond the point of no return, and we will continue this long, slow (not slow enough) stagger to ruins that has befallen many an empire before us and which will befall empires long after…. 

  5. Antediluvian | Mar 13, 2012 at 4:10 pm |

    The American empire is like the Byzantine empire, a remainder of the once great British empire that eventually got wrecked by too many Germanic invasions.  Still holding the ideal of an Anglosaxon world order high.  

    • Hadrian999 | Mar 13, 2012 at 8:22 pm |

       interesting, i wonder how many will understand it though

      •  Clear enough, though I had to make the leap in my head.

        (The shining empire that the Byzantines were the reminder of was Rome. I know we all know it, but it’s one of those facts that we (or at least I) tend to lose with the 476 sacking of Rome date stamped into our (my) head.)

        • Hadrian999 | Mar 13, 2012 at 11:06 pm |

           sorry, after returning to school the atrocious level of history knowledge that my classmates possess may be effecting my perceptions of society at large

          • Eric_D_Read | Mar 14, 2012 at 1:23 pm |

            I don’t think so. I’ve noticed the same thing. 

            Even for those who pay attention in history class, any I’ve taken from grammar school to university level just mentions Constantine adopting Christianity, and the final collapse at the hands of the Ottomans with virtually nothing mentioned about the thousand years in between.

  6. Walrusjones | Mar 13, 2012 at 5:14 pm |

    Ummm I dont know what 90s you were in but they were not frivolous and thin. The economy was good, we made technological advances in leaps and bounds and there was peace. I think we do damn fine without war, but that fact is controversial because it doesn’t paint the US as evil….whatever

    • Jin The Ninja | Mar 13, 2012 at 5:52 pm |

      NAFTA, Haiti, Genocide in Rwanda, and the rise of neo-liberal globalisation in which wages stagnated and tuitions rose 300%. plus a hundred or so other things related to imperial expansion. But good on you for trying!

      • Eric_D_Read | Mar 13, 2012 at 10:20 pm |

        Probably someone who came of age in the 90s, as I did. 

        While I’m well aware of all the bullshit that went on in that decade, it still seems like paradise by comparison to what’s happened since.

        • Jin The Ninja | Mar 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm |

          i also ‘came of age’ in the 90s, and it only seemed like paradise because at 14 who really is aware of reality.

          • Hadrian999 | Mar 13, 2012 at 11:51 pm |

            being a kid in the 80’s and a teen in the 90’s was kind fun, grew up on cheesy 80’s TV like the fall guy, the A-team, and Magnum P.I., had actual memories of seeing a music video on MTV, listened to Kirk Cobain before he was a tragedy, and graduated from high school before columbine turned it into a paranoid cellblock.

          • Eric_D_Read | Mar 14, 2012 at 1:25 pm |

            Kids who grow up dirt poor usually become aware pretty early on.

          • Jin The Ninja | Mar 14, 2012 at 2:02 pm |

            kids who grow up int’l, queer, and coloured know a little something too, but i have enough wherewithal to say comparatively to now i knew very little, and i don’t even feel my sphere of knowledge is that broad after 6 years of uni.

          • Phil Officer | Mar 15, 2012 at 12:04 am |

             Human information is one thing, knowledge another.

          • Jin The Ninja | Mar 15, 2012 at 1:50 am |

            no question.

    • Hadrian999 | Mar 13, 2012 at 6:06 pm |

      thinking about good guys and bad guys is for children. the simple fact is the U.S. operates as an empire, things are good here at the cost of being bad in other places. This is not sustainable, no empire is. the bigger an empire gets the bigger it’s supply lines get and it requires more force to maintain the status quo eventually the cost becomes so great it becomes a net loss and the whole thing contracts. the 90’s were not peaceful we had the first gulf war and that mess in the balkans plus all the small scale violence that nobody talks about.

      • Liam_McGonagle | Mar 13, 2012 at 6:32 pm |

        People are too entranced by the shadows dancing on the wall to think much about whose hands are darting before the flames.  Indeed, I was myself, for quite a while.

        The prosperity of the ’90’s was an ephemeral illusion brought on (as Jin suggests) by recently acquired cheap slave labor in 3rd world countries, unsustainable financial sector deregulation in the U.S., hidden government subsidies for selected industries and poor commodities market pricing, we still being in denial of looming resource shortages.

        Some people, like Kevin Phillips, tried to call our attention to the growing disparity in compensation and general laxity in the conduct of public affairs, but in the main we were too preoccupied with our Punch and Judy shows to take much notice.

  7. Your new home Mexico also has drug wars, dysentery, and one of the world’s worst economies. Why the hell else do you think all those millions of illegal aliens keep sneaking into America?  Hint: they KNOW the American dream is better than the mexican reality.

    • Anarchy Pony | Mar 13, 2012 at 6:08 pm |

      Go back to the Breitbart boards.

    • Falconius | Mar 19, 2012 at 9:40 am |

      I would love it if all the disillusioned USers started moving to South-Africa. The government here are truly stupid. But in that way they are really democratic and representative, since the vast majority of the population are stupid. If a decent number of clever Americans arrive it would change things for the better.

  8. No Collapse | Mar 13, 2012 at 8:06 pm |

    America is not going anywhere.  Change is inevitable, to fear that change is just being silly.  The decades old thought of the American dream will be different in the future.  Eventually with higher prices that can not be avoided, Americans will find themselves having to share their homes or apartments with other family members just to make ends meet.

    In other countries, multiple incomes are required per household.  This cooperation is needed when cost vs. salary is strained.  It is a joke when one’s children stay at home to live past their 20’s.  That Idea must change in an ever changing world.  The concept of one’s child leaving home to brave the world could be a thing of the past.

    Collapse, no, change, yes.

    • Hadrian999 | Mar 13, 2012 at 8:59 pm |

       it’s interesting that in America what we consider “normal” is really a quite modern invention

    • TripLikeEyeDew | Mar 14, 2012 at 10:50 am |

      Exactly! Thank you. I get so sick and tired of all these doom-and-gloomers. Change is inevitable and it is the only constant in the Multiverse. It also requires courage. Some will adapt and thrive while others struggle to survive…the more it changes, the more it stays the same.  

  9. Materialism is Meaningless | Mar 13, 2012 at 10:19 pm |

    They call it the “American Dream” for a reason. Dreams are not reality. Nobody wants reality, just a new pair of shoes.

  10. If this is the fall of the american empire it was a shitty empire and should not be in title with any others at least those held ground and won wars they fought. 

  11. america fell because it became an empire, at its best it was self referred as “the great republic”

    “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

      “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

  12. Quote from article: “America was founded within a conceptual framework of being in opposition to something—the British and the Native Americans, to begin with—and it never abandoned that framework.”
    America also is against Black people too — and it hasn’t abandoned that framework either!

  13. emperorreagan | Mar 14, 2012 at 1:06 pm |

    Basically my take away from reading the book so far: Americans predominantly embrace some sort of nihilism as their practical philosophy (in spite of the religious window dressing).  That certainly makes sense to me.  The classical notions of virtue were abandoned early on in American history, as the author points out in his book.  The sense of community, common wealth, etc. was abandoned early on.  And we, as a culture, have never moved beyond the destruction of those things to create a new foundation.  We’ve just embraced hedonism.

    William B. Irvine makes an argument in his book on practical stoicism that most people lack a coherent philosophy for their lives.  This argument has added some clarity to that argument for me, connecting the deeper cultural neurosis rather than just a lack of individual introspection.

  14. DistributedIntelligence | Mar 14, 2012 at 7:05 pm |

    The collapse of the American “secret” empire should be openly discussed and recorded by sociologists and historians.  We were a magnificent experiment and a good example of empire formation and collapse at high technology levels.  The interesting difference between other global empires and ourselves is the much higher energy levels available to the various factions at play.  Before, the faction that gained control of the most troops and seized the majority of the forts were impervious to the other factions who were armed with only gunpowder or other primitive arms.  Because our military industrial complex was so successful at making destructive arms, there is no such thing as a safe place for a faction to hide in a modern American civil war.  Relatively small groups of people, whatever their cause, can destroy any power center.  It’s perhaps a good thing that only a small group of psychopaths were willing to draw power to themselves in the fashion we have seen, so they should be relatively easy to disperse and neutralize once their attempts to dominate fracture the power structure of our country.  There is no honor among thieves, especially once the prize they coveted is won.

  15. DistributedIntelligence | Apr 4, 2012 at 3:34 am |

    The “American Empire” was not a natural development of the American Republic. It
    was actually the convergence of European ideological influences (fascism, social control by deception), unscrupulous families and other organizations seizing the opportunities presented after the end of WWII and the cold war.  The occulted American Empire was not something we voted into power, and oddly there was no public acknowledgement of an American Empire, let alone open support for the factions that came to rule it.  As such, the reality of the American Empire was kept away from the consciousness of the American people and could grow without effective opposition from the remnants of the republican system.

    As this power transfer is still very much an ongoing matter, we can see the power factions trying to overcome the public’s deeply ingrained loyalty to the Constitution through the infiltrated organs of the former republic.  They can’t assert too much power too quickly in a single generation, and no amount of social engineering can cause a person to accept slavery and absolute rule when his laws expressly forbid it.  Obama, a usurper and servant of these neo-fascist power centers, has been reduced to a puppet with a largely theatrical role.  He has been neutralized from his military authority by the existing internal American power factions and from this we can see their outlines and dimensions by analyzing the policies that continued into the Obama administration that they are behind. 

    Strangely, there seems to be a military faction existing independently of the other factions, hiding under the aegis of some kind of doomsday continuity concept, which transmutes into a full blown military government in a major disaster, or perhaps more crucially, whenever these extraordinary powers decide to rule for themselves.  I often wonder if this military faction made itself known to Obama and explained to him that his fraud would only be tolerated if he marched to their tune and accepted a continuation of its command structure, wars, and imperial plans to dominate the riches of the oil supply and all populations that depend on it.  We have the Bushes to thank for this creation, and it should be obvious to all that such a creation was a multigenerational effort of the Bush clan since the 1930s.  We should expect this faction to have a fascist character, friends among the concentrated industrial centers, and deep connections with secret groups of influential persons who seek to manage the resources of the world in a coherent manner for mutual gain.

    After gaining control of the majority of the institutional power centers in America by the end of the 20th century,  the last obstacles to totalitarian rule in the former USA were attacked on multiple fronts: Using the methodology of the third Reich in a shock-terror power grab and the subsequent security and enabling acts, a financial takeover involving a consolidation of the banks and the transfer of real wealth from is dispersion among the people to the financial institutions, and an information war that attempted to consolidate all media into a coherent presentation of illusion that reinforced the activities of the others and neutralized public awareness.

    Interestingly, it’s not “land” the American empire wanted, it was a combination of a parasitic central banking model that fed back into a centralized wealth system that benefited the factions and their ruling families and a reassignment of the human experience into that of a consumer of manufactured goods and a servant of the factions at rule. 

    We can see the advantage this sort of imperial model presents:  It requires no continual military occupations and it presents the conquered with a convincingly similar social and institutional structure that they believe is native, but in fact feeds back into the center of the dominating imperial power.  While there may be nothing new about this sort of arrangement, the homogeny of cultures in the modern era creates a durable and sustainable mode in which to operate this type of imperium.  Also different is the global character of the central imperium as it operates outside of national identities. Perhaps this is more clearly seen in the financial faction as it operates across political boundaries and is itself a stateless creation of ideologically unified clans.

    The dangers of operating this mode of imperium are yet to be explored, but what could not be controlled was the ever rising levels of energy and processing power available to human control.  Whether in  communications or in energy generation and storage, the march of technology could not be stopped altogether.  The nature of parasitic banking required the continual growth of host populations, which means there had to be an expansion of the energy supply and an increase of the energy density available per unit cost.  What it cannot have, but truly wants, is stasis.

    Without this expansion, the natural depletion curve of our finite oil reserves will cause a collapse of the imperium and intense regional wars will break out in response to the extremes of scarcity.  Centralized power will begin to contract societies around the constraints of available energy, imposing absolute forms of rule to insure the master factions are sustained throughout the decline, which could be for centuries.

    With an expansion (new energy source, methods, etc.) will come accelerated growths of energy technology, which will allow a continued economic expansion but will oddly enough allow the development of weapons and defenses that will revolutionize warfare and raise energy levels high enough to overcome any weapons system or delivery device that the imperium relied upon to impose its will on the world.  Literally no matter can survive assaults above certain energy densities and once a critical threshold is exceeded we will see a similar yet more intense period of revolution and war than was created after the dispersion of gunpowder.  Aggressive imperiums will not be possible when energy is ubiquitous and can be directed by anyone to destructive effects. This future would of course be the most uncertain, as there is no physical upper bound to energy technology and it could result in a dispersion of human society throughout the galaxy, or in intensely destructive wars that damage our earthbound civilizations and create new social orders

    Obviously The path to human expansion through liberated energy is the rational choice for mankind, if a bit naive.  The confrontation of existing empires with new energy weapons is inevitable, just as is the rise of available energies.  If the result of these wars is the destruction of the Anglo-American and Chinese fascist empires and the liberation of our peoples from the tyranny of the parasitic banking construct they imposed on the world, then let us hope for the best.

  16. FUCK AMERICA | Jun 8, 2012 at 4:01 pm |


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