Some call it America in Decline and it’s a theme that has been explored extensively over the recent years, months, and weeks (2) (3) (4). The idea is obviously met with skepticism. In order to understand it, we have to put it in perspective and define a context. What exactly is America and what’s in decline?
It remains the richest country in the history of modern civilization. It controls the most powerful and comparatively advanced military machine ever assembled: a likely result of spending more than the rest of the world combined (5). The two characteristics are intimately related.
Indeed, the idea that the accumulation of wealth inculcates suspicion and the need to defend it has even been discussed by 6th century philosopher Boethius in The Consolation of Philosophy: “the wealth which was thought to make a man independent rather puts him in need of further protection” (6). In fact, the need for institutional protection of private property is one of the most heavily explored topics of classical liberalist thought and framed much of the debate during the United States’ formative period. We like to think that the nation was founded on principles of total equality and personal liberty. But the chief concern among the framers was how to create a system where landowners can remain landowners without having to worry about greedy peasants.
The concept rapidly generalizes to capital accumulation today. Wealthy and privileged members of society want the government to perform its intended function which is to protect their assets. What would have previously been labeled agrarian reform is basically equivalent to progressive taxation. However, any rational politician will cater to privileged interests especially when legislative positions are virtually bought in the current system. The collection of votes is now regarding as a secondary consequence of properly financing an electoral campaign.
Social reforms that benefit the overwhelming majority of the population—where political power is least concentrated—are marginal issues that require populist demonstration in order to enter the political arena. The civil rights movement, the feminist movement, and the AIDS movement are just a few examples. That these were issues that could not be influenced by voting highlights a particularly sinister illusion of franchise. We vote for politicians that seem relatable given their stance on satellite issues. Presidential candidates will resort to tactics such as showing up on MTV discussing underwear in order to the exploit youth culture. In other venues he’ll discuss how to be tougher on crime or how to withdraw from some foreign conflict in some vague number of years.