Friday, February 19, 2010

Will America Be a Superpower Seventy Five Years From Now?

America will no longer be a superpower in seventy five years and maybe much sooner than that. This is more than just speculation. Most superpowers do not remain in that position for very long --Egypt probably was a superpower for longer than most --Assyria had it for a few hundred years --Greece and Persia were superpowers for a while --Rome was a superpower following them. After Rome,“superpowerdom”has lasted for shorter periods of time. The world moves faster due to improved technology/communications and the global economy. --Spain was a super power for a while until England defeated them at sea (in 1588). Here is what happened there: Spain had been a wealthy country, with a growing economy, and it had the world's most powerful navy. They decided to engage in “regime change”in England as part of their foreign policy. They sent their Armada out against Britain. The war did not go as planned, and the Armada was defeated. Spain has never again been a world power.England ruled the Atlantic Ocean (the main criterion at that time)which made it the world superpower. --England's reign lasted until the mid twentieth Century --Germany,rivaled England as a near equal for less than 60 years. --America's rise to superpowerdom paralleled Russia's under the Soviet Union in the years following WWI, but neither of them was dominant until after WWII. Russia is no longer a superpower and we shall follow in their footsteps in the decades ahead. Many Christian "doomsayers" point to moral decline alone, as the single cause of America's greatness waning, with perhaps the rise of leftwing politics as a companion cause. However, civilizations do not decline due to a single cause. There are always a multiplicity of issues involved. Here is why America will inevitably decline: 1) Moral decline--It is not the only cause but it is an important one. We have become [as the Greeks and Romans before us] a nation of hedonists, a nation where millions of people are all engaged in the constant pursuit of pleasure (usually called "Entertainment" or "A satisfying lifestyle," but it amounts to the same thing) cannot be a nation that pursues the kind of transcendent goals and virtues that sustain a culture. We cannot pursue honesty, respect for the past, hope for the future, selflessness, humility, and public service, if the most important item on our personal agenda is "Friday night." This is especially true if "Friday night" means "a chance to get drunk" "fun time" "bar hopping" "me time" "dump the kids on grandma and lets go party!" or some combination of the above. And this is what Friday night means to too many Americans, and it is the most important thing on their agenda each week. Even those who do not get drunk will often plan their schedule around being entertained, or having fun (even “good clean fun”) rather than around enriching relationships, cultivating virtue, serving the community, etc. 2) Economic decline--we are in trouble and don't know how bad it is. Our economy has been propped up for decades on consumer credit. The current deficits are sucking the credit lines out there plumb dry. We will pay more for credit, have less of it, and thus use less in decades ahead. Perhaps the whole thing will blow up, but I doubt it. We more likely will face several decades of drifting economically, a time of stagnation, with moderate ups and downs, but mostly a slow downward slide. . This may lead to some kinds of upheavals in society. "Friday night fun" depends on having money available to spend, and if there is less money, then “Friday night fun” suffers. Still, a pleasure driven society is not much motivated to be a productive society, and the economy will not recover without creativity, a strong work ethic, and a determination to look beyond "Friday night" and toward a better future. Americans just don't do that very much. 3) Political decline--A government that believes it must cater to the felt needs of the populace (see Rome in its decline years, or the U.S. post Katrina), will find the people more demanding, especially if "the good life" is seen as a political right, and is defined in terms of having quality material things. No government can sustain itself as the concierge of the most demanding of its citizens, at least not for very long. The US Government has undertaken to provide housing for Katrina victims, to rebuild the infrastructure, to guarantee that the dikes don't break again, etc. All of this is just way too much. Where is good old fashioned “can do spirit” and “Yankee self reliance”? We expect the government, rather than God, to guarantee the good life. (Consider that, in times past, a major natural disaster drove people either to pray, or to question the goodness of God—“Why did God allow this?” Today, a major natural disaster drives people to apply to FEMA and to question the competence and compassion of the federal government—“Why didn't Bush do something!” This is a major change in our national consciousness and orientation. It is a change that causes people to demand more of the government, while being less productive. It causes peopel to expect instant gratification from the government and to become angry and bitter if the government does not, or cannot "pony up." This is not an attitude that sustains a great nation. 4) Educational decline--People who are less well educated tend to focus on immediate rather than long range goals, and on material comforts rather than on higher and nobler ends. As education declines, the "selfishness quotient" and the "immaturity quotient" will inevitably rise. Along with this, the tax base erodes. This is because less well educated people are less productive. They earn less and thus pay less. They are also more likely to commit crimes in order to feed their drug habit, or to have money to buy things they want, or simply to stave off boredom. This nation, in a few years, will be trying to maintain a staggering debt, and a military presence, all the while maintaining a huge prison population, and serving the felt needs of millions of "victims" in this country. It will seek to do this on a shrinking tax base. We just cannot do it all. By 2055 we will no longer have military bases in Europe, the Middle East or Asia. We just won't be able to afford it, and protecting our own shores will be priority. We’ve all read about declining scores on the SAT, declines in reading skills, and about how today’s kids cannot locate Ohio on a map, etc. This has been going on since the 1970s and longer. It is starting to affect job performance, and the tax base. The “education problem in America” is not just an education problem. It affects everything. 5) Historical forces--I believe we are set for a return to the kind of isolationism that has been characteristic of the nation at times in the past. The perceived failure of the Iraq war, and its cost, will lead us to shun other such ventures in the future. It will be a long, long, lonnnnnnng time before any U S President will be able to say to the American people that a military venture will be over quickly and have little ramifications for most people. A nation that does not project what power it has into the world is not a super power. Thus, by mid century America will be struggling to pay its bills, shrinking its military presence and generally not caring a fig what other nations are doing or want to do. The nation will be dependent on other nations for manufactured goods (we are largely at that point now), and we will be teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. This is NOT the profile of a super-power. I know this is not an optimistic scenario. However, we must face facts and trends. Every nation on earth believes in its own permanence. Every powerful nation believes it will last forever (the Assyrians surely did). It is hard for us to imagine a world in which America is not --first in everything --the most powerful --the greatest --the free-est --the most virtuous (Actions of some of our soldiers in Iraq, as well as "waterboarding" has divested the rest of the world of that notion, but we cannot see it yet ourselves) This is because we have grown up in a world where that is what America was. America hit its high point in the nineteen fifties. We had just beaten Germany and Japan and had saved the world from tyranny and oppression. Now we were creating the most prosperous nation on earth, making use of our freedom and opportunities for the benefit of all. It did not last long. America's decline began in the 1960s. It has begun to be evident on a number of fronts listed above. In a few decades it will be over. America will not disappear. England and Germany have not disappeared, certainly. We will decline and stagnate into just one more among the many nations that were once great and now are “also rans.” Christians find this kind of scenario disturbing. We are used to thinking of America as "God's special people." We should never have done this in the first place, but it makes it difficult for us to face realities. Seventy-five percent of American Evangelicals see themselves as in the cultural mainstream. These people really believe that the moral relativism, drug use, drunken brawls, gambling, pornography, etc, are all happening 1) in California 2) among a small fringe group of people. They do not see that it is happening down the street, in their community, and in their schools. situations such as the abuses at Abu Graib a few years ago are seen by these Christians as an aberation, the work of a few "sickos." It is, in fact, the end result of moral relativist teaching in our schools, and on TV and in popular magazines etc. for more than 30 years. These young men and women, serving in Iraq had been told every day of their lives, "You do what YOU think is best" "Don't let others tell you what is right and what is wrong" "Your values must be your own, not someone else's" etc. And then they were given a little bit of power over others at Abu Graib. Now the liberals are decrying the results of their own moral teaching and they don’t see that they themselves are the cause of the problem. We must, I fear, prepare for second class status among the world's nations--or get serious about renewing a once thriving culture that accomplished some remarkable things.


mark said...

I agree that is America is declining and will become second-rate. It is intriguing to imagine that America will become isolationist. One question to add to the discussion is: who, then will become the new super power of the world?

Emily Hunter McGowin said...

Dr. Smith,

I don't think I would have been able to grasp some of what you say in this post before I began to get education in Catholic social teaching and virtue ethics here at U of Dayton. The moral problem that is really striking to me recently (as I've studied the abortion issue and war/peace ethics) is the fact that we as Americans don't share a common notion of "the Good" or "the good life." This seems like such a basic thing, but it is so important! Without this common bond and commitment to virtue, the ties that bind become material goods, entertainment, etc. As you say, a people with these vacuous moral commitments and social practices are virtually ungovernable and socially unproductive (not in the modern sense of progress, necessarily, but working toward the common good). Anyway... All this is to say, I agree with you. Thanks for your astute observations.

Grace and peace,

Fred Smith said...

China is set to become the next Superpower. It has a growing economy, a "can do" attitude, and the determination to win. This is why it is vitally important to get the gospel to the Chinese people now. The China that will be in the second half of this century is the China that will lead the world. Who or what will determine the kind of China it will be? Marxism? Postmodernism? The Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Will it be what America was 110 years ago as it emerged onto the world stage? What America is today? What China is today?

Christians cannot just sit on the sidelines and wait to see what will happen, for others will certainly not do this.

Anonymous said...

Your post is interesting. I find it very similar to reading the Communist Manifesto. What I mean by that is: What you describe is much the way the Manifesto describes how the capitalist society will fail. However, there are two things the Manifesto missed: 1. It assumed the capitalist society was run by a dictator or an elite were most examples of world powers in the past. 2.It assumed no regime would survive a change of power more than once.

I don't agree with your logic completely. For example, America has always been a country of situational morals (The discussion of the use of nuclear power in Japan to end the war is a great example. How can the total mass destruction of two cities even compare to some of the antics in a prison in Iraq or the waterboarding discussion?). However, your logic does bear consideration. There is no doubt the USA has evolved to being run by a moral elite. The constitutional power is in place to NOT allow such an establishment to exist (vote the people out of office), but we don't do it - probably for many of the reasons you have stated.

Based on my observations, the hope for America lies in two things. Many Christians will not like it that "salvation" is not one of those two things. Personally, I don't want my country to by my church. I like the freedoms we allow...much as God allows in His plan for man.

The two things are:
1. Elimination of the political elite as I mentioned above. If that means we amend the Constitution to have term limits on every elected official, then so be it. Why Americans can't vote people out of office, I have no idea. I doubt we have the fortitude to make a Constitutional change if we can't vote people out of office.
2. The continued immigration of qualified immigrants. Bring in the hard workers - those who want to enjoy the benefits of capitalism. This is one of the things that sets us apart from every other world power - ever. We allow a large number of immigrants and continue to do so. I am not talking about people who come to our country to get welfare. I am talking about the ones who come, start family businesses and develop communities. This is still a vibrant part of our fabric.

If both of these things could happen, then we have a elected government that represents us and we have an ever increasing captialism base that builds new businesses. This would allow for continued innovation and growth and keep the USA as a super power.

Regarding the Church, I have long said the Church has stopped being the Church and has turned to the government to provide the general populace what rightfully is the Church's responsibility. This is probably done because of the laziness you have described. God has NOT blessed the USA because we have had a strong military or a strong dollar. He has blessed us because we have carried His blessing throughout the world. If it is His blessing that we want to keep (not being a super power), then all we have to do is let the Church be the Church, but that is a topic of another discussion.

Great post.