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A Warning: When Collapse Comes, It’s Quick and Total

Lincoln Steffens1, 20th Century reporter enamored with the accomplishments of the Soviet Union famously said of it,

I have seen the future, and it works.

Well, maybe not so much.

Richard Fernandez has written an excellent piece on the causes and consequences of destroying a society from the inside out.

Fernandez explains that the collapse of a society is deceptively slow … until it isn’t. There are inherent human responses that strive to perpetuate the illusion of normality, long after the point of no return.

The suddenness of Venezuela’s collapse should have come as no surprise because downfalls are inherently abrupt. Collapse is a phase change. One moment something is sailing along fat, dumb and happy and the next moment it is sinking beneath the waves. The change from two to one is a loss of 50%; but the change from one to zero is binary.

Fernandez draws a picture of the situation in Venezuela as stark as it is depressing. It is a pattern, that despite being repeated numerous times, is still steadfastly ignored by the left in The United States.2

Welcome to Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela, a country with the fifth largest oil reserves in the world and absolutely broke. It’s a remarkable achievement for Chavismo. A just-wow moment. Socialism is useless at everything except for smashing things in record time. There it excels. It’s hard to imagine that as late as the 1980s Venezuela had the highest standard of living in Latin America. But then in 1960 Detroit was the richest city in the world in per capita income. Now it’s well … Detroit.

What struck this reader most about this piece was not the author’s postmortem of the situation in Venezuela and Syria,

Adam Smith once remarked that “there is a great deal of ruin in a nation”. That is usually understood to mean that it takes a long time to break things. … But is more correct to say ‘a great deal of ruin’ means “it takes a long time to realize that things are breaking”.

The clue is the total finality of the crash when it comes. The victim when examined for postmortem is drained of blood; his organs are all twisted and perverted. The dead man was not ‘a little weaker than yesterday’ but in a far more fragile than was supposed. The damage was hidden as if the final day of reckoning was put off by eating the seed corn, pawning the family jewels and finally, selling the family members to buy the final meal — in a word as if everything was consumed to counterfeit the appearance of normalcy.

Thus, the collapse when it comes is unexpectedly complete. When National Intelligence Director James Clapper says Syria has become an ‘apocalyptic disaster’ it doesn’t simply mean that Syria is a little worse than in 2011, but far, far worse than we thought it was even in December 2013. The husk of Syria has not only consumed its final supplies of food, but also its reserves of comity, good will, human capital and luck.

To be sure this is a grim pattern that we can see aspects of today in this country with its mounting debt, and seeming lack of resolve to do anything about it. But what really resonated was Fernandez’s analysis of the deeper issue,

A society can survive the loss of things, but it cannot survive without institutions or the destruction of culture. Culture is to nations what an immune system is to people. Nations under siege fall back on some atavistic condition. Thus, occupied Poland becomes more Catholic, as does Ireland, and as Egypt perhaps becomes more Muslim. They fall back on the known and the comforting. City Hall might collapse and the factory temporarily closed but if culture and identity survive these things can be reopened again.

The apocalypse of Syria means that many people don’t even want to reopen things any more. They hate their neighbors, individually and collectively.

The genius of the Left — Chavez’s for example — is that it destroys things from the inside out. They pervert religion, collapse the mores, abolish the family, shred the constitution and gradually expropriate the property. The differences from one day to the next are apparently imperceptible, but it is harder and harder to go back until finally there is no reversal of ‘progressive gains’ possible at all. The public is finally faced with the stark choice between chaos or authoritarianism. And most people will chose the Boss over the Mob.

Sound familiar?  Read the rest, here.

1Lincoln Steffens was a New York reporter who launched a series of articles in McClure’s that would later be published together in a book titled The Shame of the Cities. He is remembered for investigating corruption in municipal government in American cities and for his early support for the Soviet Union. Wikipedia

2Apologists for communist/socialist regimes, often parrot explanations like those of Steffens, who wrote that “Soviet Russia was a revolutionary government with an evolutionary plan”, enduring “a temporary condition of evil, which is made tolerable by hope and a plan.


1 Ann Herzer { 02.20.14 at 10:39 am }

This is an outstanding article, and I’m sending it far and wide. I think we can all learn a lesson from it. I do not totally agree with Fernandez and what happened to education. He should point a finger at the USDOE programs used on inner city students. Detroit is a good example as is Chicago.


2 Marcia { 02.20.14 at 11:15 pm }

Excellent article. As for us, our institutions and culture are being hollowed out and the family is under attack while we avert our eyes.


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