Is America in irreversible decline?

Article author: 
Conrad Black
Article publisher: 
New Criterion
Article date: 
15 November 2021
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 

The answer to the question that Roger Kimball gave me for reply is that no, the United States is not in irreversible decline at all. It is at a plateau that should be sustainable for a long time. It has had an untimely and even freakish confluence of unfortunate circumstances, but the United States is today no less important a country in the world than it was a year ago or ten or twenty or thirty years ago. It was only thirty years ago that it led the West to the greatest and most bloodless strategic victory in history, in the disintegration of its only rival as a superpower in the world. This disintegration occurred as a result of the inspired policy of containment followed by ten presidents. No shot in anger was ever exchanged between the United States and the Soviet Union....

One hears a good deal of glib talk comparing the United States to the late Roman Empire. This is not informed opinion. There were, depending upon how you count them, fifty Roman emperors from Augustus to Romulus Augustulus, 27 B.C.–453 A.D., and thirty-eight of them died violently. After Constantine died in 337, Rome was ever more frequently and heavily dependent upon mercenaries, frontier barbarians of questionable loyalty, and the interventions of religious leaders. Later Roman government was thoroughly debased, conducted mainly by warlords who had no real fealty to Rome at all. And even after seven hundred years of preeminent influence in western Europe, when the Empire was more or less competently directed from Rome, and after a century of increasing chaos, when it was overwhelmed by barbarian masses, the eastern Roman Empire soldiered on for nearly another thousand years...

The United States is fundamentally a much more powerful country than China, which lacks the internal resources to support an aging, over-large, and culturally inhomogeneous population; is 40 percent a command economy, riven by corruption; and possesses no civilian institutions that are respected in or outside the country. Several hundred million Chinese still live as their ancestors did two thousand years ago. China is the greatest economic development story in history, and this is the first time a formerly Great Power ceased to be one and has, after a lapse of five hundred years, regained that status...

China has had little relevant recent experience of how to behave like a Great Power. Its generally overbearing and simplistic notions of how to augment its influence in the world and its strategies for pouring money into developing countries will ultimately lead to those investments being nationalized by their hosts. The idea that China will gain any great long-range influence by investing profusely in Africa, much less Afghanistan, is nonsense...

Donald Trump did the nation a service in recognizing the level of public discontent and the drift away from an incentive economy and into indecisive foreign policy. He achieved a great deal, especially in eliminating unemployment and generating a greater percentage of economic growth among the lowest 20 percent of income earners than the highest 10 percent. But his war on the political establishment made him vulnerable...

This is no time for complacency, but no such decline is in process. Americans are still highly motivated and very patriotic. American political institutions, though strained and tainted at times, still function; the national political media are starting to retrieve a modicum of professionalism, and China has no answer to the full force of American creativity, spontaneity, and focused national determination.