It does not take much to discover that there are serious people out there who believe that the United States is in decline. In fact, some have taken to going so far as to say that the entire Western World is in decline, most notably Prof. Niall Ferguson and Mark Styen. This attitude raises the questions of is the West, as a whole, in decline? And if so, what is to be done about it? History often tells the story of the present and the future, so if these two questions are going to be answered, there needs to be a very close look at some historical facts.
To start, if there is to be a future where the Western World still acts as the preeminent force on the global stage, then it would stand to reason that there needs to be people in positions of power with Western philosophy as the foundation of their ideas and policies. Unfortunately, the West is severely lacking in both people and people willing to exhibit Western ideas–or at least the Western ideas that made the West the intellectual power of the world. This is one of Styen’s major sticking points with the decline of the West. It is not so much that a tree falling in the woods will not make a sound if no one is there to here it. It is that the tree will not be made into an elegant bookcase or refined rocking chair because there will be no one there to build it. Demographics are half the story behind the decline of the West, and right now those demographics look dismal. If the meek is to inherit the earth, shouldn’t there be some meek to begin with?
Take a look at the total fertility rates (TFR) of the three major Western powers of Europe to get a sense of why European power globally has drastically declined since World War II. For France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, the TFRs are 2.08, 1.48, and 1.9 respectively. The TFR needed to maintain replenishment levels for older generations passing on is 2.01. Of these three, France is the only one at replenishment levels, but this is only part of the demographic story because there are factors that drive these rates that cannot be seen by simply viewing the TFR. France, has one of the fastest growing Muslim populations in Europe, and, if the counties of origin are any indication of the fertility rates of the immigrant population of France, it is easy to see what is buoying the TRF of France. The UK has a similar situation going on, but they are slightly below replenishment levels. Germany on the other hand is in real disarray at 1.49. In fact, Germany has a negative population growth percentage of -.19 %. If things remain static in Germany, there may not be any Germans left by the end of this century. So it is plain to see that, with the once major powers of Europe not having any signs of indigenous vitality, there would not be any signs of intellectual or economic vitality either. So where does the US sit?
The US has a TFR that is comparable to France, but with slightly different underlying forces driving it. The immigrant population that is driving the US TFR is Hispanic, and, according to recent reports, they have had a decrease in birthrates too. Among the more “traditional” American population, the decline in birthrates has coincided with the decline in just about every characteristic that helped to make the US the leader of the West after World War II. As birthrates declined, so to did industrial manufacturing, technological innovation, and political individualism. (Saying that technological innovation has declined may fly in the face of what many may think, but outside of personalizing the computer, the basic concept of computing power by machines is being changed in the East and not in the West.) Nonetheless, the US remains in a pivotal position regarding global affairs, but, as with Germany, if things remains static, that position will fade fast.
The other side to this coin is the abandonment of Western ideas about concepts that many once said were part of a Western character. This is Prof. Ferguson’s thesis to his very witty book Civilization: The West and the Rest. What Prof. Ferguson says is that somewhere around 1500 the West took concepts known to much of the rest of the world and, by applying their unique characteristics to these concepts, became the leader of world events for the sequential 500 years. However, he also makes the point that now The Rest, as he puts it, have taken some of these concepts and began applying them to their own societies and thus have began to close the major gap between them and the West. But he does not stop there. While The Rest have began applying the Western notions of these concepts to their societies, the West has begun to completely ignore them all together. This speaks to statement from above that it is not enough to have people available to fill the positions of power that are occupied by the West, but that those doing the occupying must exhibit a firm grasp on the ideas of the West that made those positions work for everyone.
A great case in point is the United Nations Human Rights C0mmission (UNHRC). Human rights is without argument a Western concept borne out of the democratic movements of the Enlightenment. Yet, what states have held the chairmanship of the UNHRC the past few times? States such as Iran, Cuba, China, Saudi Arabia, and Libya have all held the chairmanship and signed off on various human rights initiatives that have credibility because of the UN stamp of approval. (Yes, folks like you and I roll our eyes at this, but how many of the low-information crowd do you think do the same?) Here is a Western notion, human rights, being bastardized by non-Western actors carrying out their non-Western ideas under the umbrella constructed by the West.
Increasingly, the Western ideas that worked to propel humanity to heights not known before in history are not only being abandoned by the West, but are being turned into the cause of the plights of The Rest. It takes Prof. Ferguson’s notions to the next phase that he did not–or was not willing to–go. Both Ferguson and Steyn lament the exhaustion of the West, but they differ on the direction that the West will continue to take. Prof. Ferguson believes that, because of the concept of the rule of law that is ingrained in the West and not at all in The Rest, the further decline of the West can be stemmed and turned around. Steyn on the other hand is not nearly as optimistic. Steyn argues that, since much of what has made the West great has been turned into examples of Western evil unleashed upon the world, it will only be a matter of time before rule of law goes out the window as well. (One only needs to look at President Barack Obama’s notions of getting to work through Executive Order instead of the legislative process and the American Left cheering him on.)
If the US is to decline to a point where it is merely a part of a whole global system, then what is going to fill the void left by the decline? Is it going to be China? Russia? Some combination of the two? Could it even be something no one is thinking about like a unified Middle East? Vacuums are never left unfilled. So even if the Tea Party or the GOP win, what are they going to be able to do with it? It is unlikely that an Republican president, whether they be of the Tea Party persuasion or the Establishment kind, will be able to make much of an effect on the internal characteristics of the US that are the cause of the global decline. As important as it is to shift the GOP toward the Tea Party world view nationally, it is even more important to shift local communities toward this world view. The Tea Party needs to be prepared to turn that fallen tree into that elegant bookcase.