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After America: Get Ready for Armageddon by Mark Steyn

Mark Steyn

Reviewed by:
On January 18, 2012
Last modified:September 29, 2012


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.

After America by Mark SteynIt 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.

Steyn summarizes:

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.


1 Jeff Edelman { 01.18.12 at 9:35 pm }

And then there is the Republican field of candidates for president. I haven’t listened to much of any of the debates. But, from what I have heard, none of them are articulating anything like Steyn’s scenario. If pressed, I’d say Paul comes the closest. Rome is burning and all these Neros can do is engage in pity bickering. Where is the vision? Where is the person that sees the grand picture and can show it to the electorate? Who won’t be distracted by smallness and lose his way? Who will impress upon Americans who/what the enemy is and the impending but certain calamity?


David Powell Reply:

Totally agree with you!


Marcia Reply:

There is so much the Republicans should be talking about but are not. No candidate is making a cogent case for why it is vital to the future of the nation that Obama and the Democrat majority in the Senate be defeated. But even if they are, their replacements will have to be held accountable or they will come down with Washingtonitis.


Jeff Edelman Reply:

Like the price of gas for instance. In my state of Oklahoma, the cheapest grade is a little over $3/gallon. I’m sure many Americans would consider voting for a candidate who says he will do all in his power to make it easier to develop our energy resources and build more refineries. This is a jobs creation issue, a national security issue, an improving the economy and standard of living issue. This is not to mention Obamacare, which nobody does much. Does anybody remember Obamacare — the take over of the American economy? Seventy percent of Americans oppose it. This socialist has provided so much ammo over the three years he has been in office a candidate could talk about it endlessly and should. Every time he’s asked a question he should explode into a litany of the Obama offenses. There should be no time to talk about the other candidates, because what you have to say about the socialist, takes up all of your time. Just think if all of these candidates just talked about what Obama has done to this country — the economy. Would this insure victory for America in 2012? I think it would. I think what we are seeing reveals the fact that these candidates care more about their own advancement than that of AMERICA.


M Californian Reply:

I’m sorry a number of you folks missed the debates. Although Paul’s libertarian principles are the closest, he is often off-the-rails, making him unelectable at this time. Newt has been the most outspoken on ObamaCare, on the weakening of our military and calling Obama the most dangerous President. AND it rallied the voters in SC. That
being said, no candidate can preach extreme changes because he has to get elected- that will take getting moderates and independents to vote for him. Remember, there is a strategy to getting elected. Newt has carefully built his positions testing the audience with each one. And, in the end, it is up to each of us to contribute money, time, and voices to a candidate who is to take on Obama. The next President will be elected by how he appears on TV and performances in debates. That’s how the current one made it. I’ve stepped up to the financial commitment and regularly raise my voice. Have you?


Jeff Edelman Reply:

To answer your question, No one is getting my diluted dollar, yet. “Extreme” is in the eyes of the beholder. Some may consider adhering to the Constitution as extreme. Do you? I would say, compared to the way this country is ruled today, it is damned extreme. The Constitution is the antithesis to the way the government works today. It’s so extreme, it is 180! It was extreme in 1783! It was unique! Unprecedented in the history of the world! We were blessed by God with this as our heritage. No other people in the existence of the world up to that time had known this exact type of government. Please, speak to me of extreme. This is the vision I spoke of, my friend. We have to be reminded. We have to be reeducated. We have to be revived! Nothing less than this extreme will save this country. Period! The moderates and the independents are waiting to be led — just as in 2008. (Just an aside, according a recent poll, 70 percent of Americans describe themselves as being a conservative.)


Sewerin Barnowski Reply:

The world did not begin with America! (and it will not end with it). The Poles and the Swiss once had heritages similar to that of America. Also the Icelanders. And I’m sure we can find some other examples if we dig deep enough. You guys are not the first ones in the world to discover the republic of limited government. The danger for you and for the world is that one way or the other, as others before you, you’ll lose it. Remember, the Roman Empire was a very civilised place, but the liberties of the Roman Republic had been gone forever (just an example).

2 Doug S. { 01.19.12 at 12:14 pm }

As Steyn pointed out a few weeks ago in an interview, the only one of the then GoP candidates that got the sense of urgency related to the seriousness of the debt, spending and decay facing America, was Bachmann. The plebs want to hear “smooth things” and that means pols not touching any third rails, the notion of austerity being one of them. We want our cake and eat it to. King Obama and Michelle Antoinette are promising to keep giving it to us as long as the music continues to play.


Marcia Reply:

The world may not end if America follows the European model into bankruptcy and anarchy, but it will be a far more dangerous place. It is not an exaggeration to predict, as Steyn does, that it will be a less civilized place.
Yes, freedom is difficult and often of short duration. It is each generation’s task to preserve it. Olympian detachment is not a pose we can afford.


3 Dave R. { 01.19.12 at 1:44 pm }

Gah! It’s not up to a savior! It’s up to us! Of course the GOP candidates are weak, they aren’t that different from the Dems. But it starts with us at the local level, at the personal level. We MUST find a way to enact a cultural change, not a political one. Politics is merely a reflection of a culture. As Steyn says… make the wrong elected official do the right thing. Stop blaming the Emperor.


4 Doc { 01.20.12 at 5:44 am }

I blame the Sovereign of the nation, We the People. Many decades ago we wilfully and blindly abandoned our own foundational Law, allowing and encouraging the ministers we hire to run the nation to trample it in the dust. From SocSec to Medicare, from OSHA to EPA, from Depts of Labor to Education, and so many more, the grossly unConstitutional Fed bureaucrazies throw not sand but boulders into the gears of the nation’s economy. We will not do what is needed: go back to Constitutional gov’t. If we did, business would boom, wealth would spread, the poor would greatly benefit from entrepeneurial and employment opportunities they long have been unjustly denied. Freedom would reign. Debt would disappear. Disaster averted for now.

But we won’t do that. The only trace of hope I see is for some state to decide that it isn’t going to be dragged down with the rest of the nation, and unilaterally declare that within its borders only Constitutional Fed laws will be allowed to be enforced. Once upon a time Massachusetts and Minnesota had the guts to do Antietam. Would they be willing to take up arms against a new Republic of Texas now?


Marcia Reply:

Steyn discusses the real possibility that if America goes the way of Europe we will fracture with the solvent states bailing out.


5 russ in nc { 01.21.12 at 6:54 pm }

There is no law that says there must be 50 stars on Old Glory. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is no more. The same forces that dis-integrated the USSR are at work in the USA.


6 mark { 01.22.12 at 4:14 pm }

The USA is in terminal decline because its educational system has, for several generations of graduates, been unengaged in eliciting the most from the best regardless of cost. Also, biology is not on our side. China has, because of its higher base IQ and huge population approximately 200 million people with IQ above 115; we have a tenth of that. Remember how we all marvelled at the Russians when they first played hockey on the international stage, as opposed to Canada, the traditional powerhouse. It was because of their
much larger playing population. The same lesson will be learned in science and technology, the driving force of wealth.


Marcia Reply:

I would agree that the education system is to blame for American decline, but money isn’t the problem. The left captured academia a long time ago, especially teacher colleges, and the focus of education is on bringing about social change, promoting self esteem, enforcing equality not excellence, and whatever fad happens to be current. Charles Murray, in Coming Apart, has written about the other causes of our decline, the welfare state primary among them.


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