It only hurt when I laughed. Reading Steyn’s latest book is painful but he leavens the pain with his irreverent humor. Prepare to groan while you giggle at his talent for skewering the ludicrous. The book is extensively footnoted, always on point, and all too frequently validated by events.
It would be a relief to dismiss Steyn as just another crisis monger. But unlike the usual disaster hype, the world really is coming to an end–at least the world as Americans know it.
Steyn begins by cataloging America’s unsustainable spending and borrowing habits. Habits, he points out, that did not originate with this administration. “The Democrats accelerated to Obamacrous Speed in 2009,” but government spending has been on an almost straight trajectory “up, up, up” – regardless of which party controlled the White House and Congress.
Government is spending us, our children and grandchildren, into penury, but according to Steyn, it is more a moral crisis than an economic one. The debt catastrophe is accompanied by increased dependency, disincentivized self-reliance, and a citizenry absolved of responsibility for their actions. All of which the result of, what Steyn calls “the remorseless governmentalization of American life.” Thus the debt “represents a transfer from the citizen to the state not of money but of power.”
For long time, optimism about the future was based on America’s technological/ industrial prowess and work ethic. But that was then, this is now. Try to invent a medical device, start a company or file a patent. “Everything’s longer, slower, more soul crushing.” Briefly stated, the American spirit is being throttled by bureaucracy.
If they were trying to build the transcontinental railroad now, they’d be spending the first three decades on the environmental impact study and hammering in the Golden Spike to celebrate the point at which the Feasibility Commission’s expansion up from the fifth floor met the Zoning Board’s expansion down from the twelfth floor.
It’s not only that we no longer invent or pursue great dreams. Steyn points out that the progressives we put in charge are waging a war on progress. They oppose air conditioning, the internal combustion engine, oil exploration and almost anything that contributes to prosperity. So, despite what candidate Obama told Joe the Plumber, it’s not about spreading the wealth. It’s about equalizing poverty.
Steyn observes that we already suffer from a poverty of ambition. “We do not save, we do not produce. Instead we seek new, faster ways to live in the eternal present, in an unending whirl of sensory distraction.” We are a cosseted society devoted to frivolousness.
Steyn quotes Tocqueville pondering on what could cause America’s downfall:
I see an innumerable crowd of like and equal men who resolve on themselves without repose, procuring the small and vulgar pleasures with which they fulfill their souls.
Steyn provides another eerily relevant Tocqueville citation:
Over these is elevated an immense, tutelary power, which takes sole charge of assuring their enjoyment and of watching over their fate … It would resemble the paternal power if, like that power, it had as its object to prepare men for manhood, but it seeks contrary, to keep them irrevocably fixed in childhood … it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their needs, guides them in their principle affairs…
The sovereign extends its arms about the society as a whole; it covers its surface with a network of petty regulations –complicated, minute and uniform–through which even the most original minds and vigorous souls know not how to make their way…
After Obama eviscerated the NASA, he gave it a new mission. NASA administrator Charles Bolden explained that he was directed to inspire children to study math and science, expand international relationships “and perhaps foremost, he wanted me to find a way to reach out to the Muslim world and engage much more with dominantly Muslim nations to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science and math and engineering.”
So the new NASA mission is a self-esteem program for Muslims.
“Islam: The final frontier! To boldly go where no diversity outreach consultant has gone before!” That will inspire the kiddies to study advanced math.
There’s your American decline right there: from out-of-this-world to out-of-our-minds, an increasingly unmanned flight from real historic, technologic accomplishment to unreal, ahistorical, therapeutic, touchy-feely multiculti.
Martin’s posts of the Federalist papers inform us that the central government is supposed to be concerned only with issues that affect the welfare of the entire nation. It now regulates community bake sales, the housing of lab rats, light bulbs, and toilets. Providing for the common defense, its principle responsibility, is no longer the controlling priority.
Steyn foretold the president’s recent announcement that he intends downsizing the military.
Faced with a choice between unsustainable entitlements and maintaining armed forces of global reach, the United States, as Europe did, will abandon and toss the savings into the great sucking maw of social spending.
Of course the president promised he would do so without jeopardizing American security. This weary reviewer will add that assurance to his promise that Obama Care would spend less while insuring more people, and to his pledge to ”preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
Why was Obama so determined to enact ObamaCare? Steyn explains:
Because the governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make small government all but impossible ever again. In most of the rest of the Western world, it’s led to a kind of two-party one-party state: right-of-center parties will once in awhile be in office, but never in power, merely presiding over the vast left-wing bureaucracies that cruise on regardless. All ‘technocratic’ societies slide left into leftism and stasis.
So what’s the outlook for our future?
As Congressman Paul Ryan pointed out, by 2004, 20% of U.S. households were getting about 75% of their income from the federal government. As a matter of practical politics, how receptive would they be to a pitch for lower taxes, which they don’t pay or for lower government spending, of which they are such fortunate beneficiaries? How receptive would another fifth of households, who receive about 40% of their incomes from the feds, be to such a pitch?
What good is voter ID when the president keeps spending money we don’t have to buy off more of the electorate?
The end game for statists is very obvious. If you expand the bureaucratic class and you expand the dependent class, you can put together a permanent electoral majority.
If this continues, Steyn predicts that in 20 years we’ll be “living the American Nightmare…” an extreme version of what is occurring in Europe and the WSO is a mild portent. It will be worse in America, Steyn avers, because the leftist elites in charge of academia have substituted multiculturalism for American history and the ties that bind us together as a nation.
The relentless march of demography (failure to control our borders) and “the abandonment of America’s animating ideas will leave a large porous continent with insufficient glue to make it governable.” Steyn warns of a fractured union, out of one many.
Steyn is a Canadian now making his home in America because, as he says, there is no place else to go. As an immigrant he knows how high the stakes really are, and not only for America.
“The world after America will be a Hobbesian thing, with life that is ‘nasty, brutish, and short.'”
There will be no new world order, only a world with no order, in which pipsqueak failed states go nuclear while the planet’s wealthier nations are unable to defend their borders and are forced to adjust to the post-American era as they can.
Lest readers go in search of Hemlock, Steyn holds out the possibility of a happier future. But he urges that time is short.
Americans face a choice: you can rediscover the animating principles of the American idea – of limited government, a self-reliant citizenry, and the opportunities to exploit your talents to the fullest – or you can join most of the rest of the western world in terminal decline. To rekindle the spark of liberty once it dies is very difficult. The inertia, the ennui, the fatalism is even more pathetic than the demographic decline and fiscal profligacy of the social democratic state, and, because it’s subtler and less tangible, even harder to rally against.”
In the last chapter he discusses bringing back the America of limited government, self-reliance and political and cultural sanity. The closing paragraphs are addressed to “the children” who are advised how not to get suckered like their big brothers and sisters.
Buy Steyn’s book. Inoculate your children against the left. It’s better than a flu shot.