Unfortunately, no one understands it better than Thomas Sowell.
by Thomas Sowell
(Basic Books, 341 pages, $27.95)
America, it seems, is always in decline.
Searching through Amazon.com reveals plenty of works arguing that America’s best days are behind her. From the 1974 novel The Decline and Fall of America; to William Dietrich’s 1991 book, In the Shadow of the Rising Sun: The Political Roots of American Economic Decline, about Japan’s inevitable surpassing of America economically; to the more recent The Death of the West by the always upbeat Patrick Buchanan, most such works of gloom-and-doom have usually been followed by years of tremendous peace and prosperity. After a while it is hard to take any book about American decline seriously.
However, if there a reason to treat the idea of our society’s fall with grave concern, it is that a book has now been written about it by Thomas Sowell.
Entitled Dismantling America, it is a collection of some of his more recent newspaper columns grouped into five sections — government policies, political issues, economic issues, cultural issues, and legal issues — with some added commentary beginning each section.
Sowell’s thesis is encapsulated in the following passage:
The collapse of a civilization is not just the replacement of rulers or institutions with new rulers and new institutions. It is the destruction of a whole way of life and the painful, and sometimes pathetic, attempts to begin rebuilding amid the ruins.
Is that where American is headed? I believe it is. Our only saving grace is that we are not there yet.
The decline of America is a theme that has increasingly preoccupied Sowell’s work, and it might be tempting to dismiss it as a natural occurrence of age. A little earlier this year, Sowell became an octogenarian. As the British writer Samuel Johnson once said:
Every old man complains of the growing depravity of the world, of the petulance and insolence of the rising generation. He recounts the decency and regularity of former times, and celebrates the discipline and sobriety of the age in which his youth was passed; a happy age which is now no more to be expected, since confusion has broken in upon the world, and thrown down all the boundaries of civility and reverence.
Yet Sowell seems to be well aware of such sentiment. For example, in the random thoughts portion of the book, Sowell states, “Despite people who speak glibly about ‘earlier and simpler times,’ all that makes earlier times seem simpler is our ignorance of their complexities.”
Further, Sowell has not rushed into this subject lightly. Indeed, he appears to have wrestled with it at length. In a previous book, Sowell said that while he sometimes got depressed about the future of this great nation, he once asked the Nobel economist and libertarian Friedrich Hayek if he was pessimistic or optimistic about the future. Hayek replied “Optimistic!” and pointed out that in the 1940s he had been a lonely voice against government intervention in the economy, but that in the decades since his ideas about liberty had proliferated. Thus, Sowell has been concerned about this subject for some time, and if he is convinced America is in decline, we would do well to consider his warning.
Sowell points to the Obama Administration as a prime example of America’s decline. Obama has had no problem appointing “czars” who determine the salary of corporate executives, praise mass murderers like Chairman Mao, or believe public schools are the place to promote sexual practices that most Americans find objectionable. He seems eager to ram legislation thousands of pages long through Congress before the American public has adequate time to know what is in it and enthusiastic about a panel (now called the Independent Payment Advisory Board) that will make life-and-death decisions about medical care.
But Sowell does not view Obama so much as a cause of America’s decline as the embodiment of trends set in motion decades ago. One such trend is the gradual relinquishing to an elite of intellectuals the liberty that rightly belongs with individuals. These elites — comprised of politicians, academics, journalists and judges — are infected with the belief that they are qualified to make decisions for the rest of us. Sowell warns of the disaster that they can do: “There is usually only a limited amount of damage that can be done by dull or stupid people. For creating a truly monumental disaster, you need people with high IQs.”
In the column “Playing Freedom Cheap,” Sowell warns against the “dangerous power toward which we are moving, bit by bit, on the installment plan… of politicians to tell people what their incomes can and cannot be.” To achieve this, the elite foment resentment against “the rich” and distract the public with phrases like “obscene wealth” and “unconscionable profits.” Sowell argues:
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?