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Declined and Fallen

Peter asks a few questions about national decline and, most, uh, flatteringly, asks the Brits to comment. It’s an enormous topic, but here are some quick thoughts…

Query:  Does overall national output, the figure in which China will soon overtake us, or GDP per person, in which the United States will sustain an indefinite lead, matter more to national standing and morale?

Answer: Switzerland or China? That’s easy. Despite the protestations of the natalists and/or the pro-mass immigration crowd, per capita is what counts, but with one caveat: If part of a nation’s self-image is as a great (or the greatest) power it has to have enough collective wealth to be able to afford the armed forces that make that still a plausible claim.

Query:  What, really, was the meaning of the Thatcher years?  To what extent was she truly able to reverse British decline? In the end, was she able to restore a sense of national pride? If we could find a Thatcher of our own in 2016–Bobby Jindal? Marco Rubio?–what, realistically, could he hope to accomplish? Merely to retard our continuing decline?

Answer: She reversed—for a while—the idea that Britain had to accept a mediocre future at best, and she paved the way for the (uneven) economic revival that was so sadly squandered in the Blair/Brown years. What she did not understand too well, however, was the institutional structure of the nation. No student of Burke, she allowed some of the glue that held the country together to come unstuck to a dangerous degree. At the same time, she was far too complacent about the extent to which other institutions, from the bureaucracy, to the BBC, to large swaths of the education system, were either rotten or corrosive. Could the US reverse its own decline? There’s probably no country theoretically better placed to do so, but there is little evidence to suggest that the leader capable of setting that in motion has arrived on the scene.

Query:  You grew up in an England that had become a minor power–a little England–but that remained, in important ways, wealthy and vibrant, at least for those who made their livings in finance and the few other sectors in which England remained competitive.

Answer: Actually, it had not become a minor power (that was what the left—and their fellow travelers on the right—used to claim). It was “still” (a crucial word in discussions on this topic) one of the largest economies in the world, and it “still” packed quite a punch. The problem was that, grand(ish) as it “still” was, the UK was a shadow of its former self. The knowledge of that fact, on top of the battering that the country’s self-esteem had received from a series of catastrophic blunders (World War One, perhaps above all) meant that much of its self-confidence had evaporated. And once that’s gone …

However large, relatively speaking, the economy “still” was, at the individual level it was not outside the ranks of a shrinking few, particularly “wealthy” (I am talking about the 1960s and 1970s, so maybe a little earlier than the time to which you are referring). Taxation was savage, the finance-driven bonanza was yet to be, and the prevailing feeling was that worse was yet to come, a fear that soured the political debate still further. When a country no longer believes that it can increase the size of the pie, the debate over how to divide it becomes very ugly, very quickly.

 And, yes, there are clear signs that that’s happening here.

There’s nothing genteel about decline. 

  1. Black Prince
    At the same time, [Margaret Thatcher] was far too complacent about the extent to which other institutions, from the bureaucracy, to the BBC, to large swaths of the education system, were either rotten or corrosive. 

    So was Ronald Reagan.  While one of the greatest presidents,  Reagan failed in his most important task of destroying the Marxist propaganda machines that are reversing the progress that he made.  Conservatives still don’t get the reason why we’re in this mess in the first place.  Read Andrew Breitbart’s  Righteous Indigation, especially the parts about the Frankfurt School and Saul Alinsky.

    Could the US reverse its own decline? There’s probably no country theoretically better placed to do so, but there is little evidence to suggest that the leader capable of setting that in motion has arrived on the scene.

    Actually, given the degree to which America has embraced Marxist ideology and allowed it to thrive in this country without opposition, America is probably in a worse position to reverse its own decline.

    For more information on how a country can be destroyed by subverting it’s institutions and values check out Yuri Bezmenov: Psychological Warfare, Subversion & Control of Western Society.

  2. Indaba

    Ricochet was an oasis because if the recognition of how the media and education system was brain washing the population. Ricochet podcasts need to discuss Britain as so much that happened there is in the US now. The podcast ought to have Canadian politics too as our Conservatives did the social values split fifteen years ago and the soul searching I read on Ricochet now. Harper pulled together the religious right and the libertarian right and he is now the longest serving PM, stopped the gun registry, our corporate tax rates are the lowest in the G 8 and our economy is switching away from Obama to China and India with Harper negotiating trade pacts. The UK’s stupidity does not have to be everyone’s. my parents could have returned to the UK but they saw Canada and the US as the future. Cameron visited Canada and his last speech he said Canada’s future is ahead while the best of the UK is behind. That is such negative foolishness. He just does nit have the guts to do conservative policies,

  3. Black Prince
    Indaba: Harper pulled together the religious right and the libertarian right and he is now the longest serving PM, stopped the gun registry, our corporate tax rates are the lowest in the G 8 and our economy is switching away from Obama to China and India with Harper negotiating trade pacts. 

    I’m a huge fan of Stephan Harper and his ability to rise about the lies and smears of the mainstream media.  Harper is a brilliant tactician and is always thinking 3 or 4 moves ahead of his opposition.  That being said, I don’t think that Canada is “out of the woods” with respect to its own ideological subversion and the influence of Marxist propaganda (especially in Quebec).  The fact is that Harper walks a very fine line and will probably be another “flash in the pan” like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.  I’d feel a lot better about Canada’s prospects if Harper can find a way to orchestrate the destruction of Canada’s most potent Marxist propaganda machine, the CBC.  The fact that Harper is moving Canada’s economy away from the US towards China, India and Brazil, should be a warning to all Americans.

  4. Valiuth
    Andrew Stuttaford:

     The problem was that, grand(ish) as it “still” was, the UK was a shadow of its former self. The knowledge of that fact, on top of the battering that the country’s self-esteem had received from a series of catastrophic blunders (World War One, perhaps above all) meant that much of its self-confidence had evaporated. And once that’s gone…

    A shadow of its former self? Is the UK not wealthier now then it ever was. Is that not a fact? I think the problem of “decline” is that it is measured in such relative terms. In the Victorian era England enjoyed prominence not because it was wealthier than today, but because it was comparatively wealthier. This though creates a rather immoral dilemma.  If we wish to be “great” it is more important that we work to make others small. Isn’t that the secret to Empire?

    What propelled America to its current status as a super power? The utter devastation of Europe and Asia in WWII, which we largely escaped. 

  5. She

    Yes.  Sign me up with the ‘[whatever you're talking about] begins at home’ crowd.

    Morality, morale, decency, self-confidence, prosperity, all those things need to ‘begin at home.’

    Unfortunately, what too often begins at home today is self-interest, hive mind, willful ignorance and stupidity.

    I gave up on the idea of ever living in England again, sitting in a British Rail carriage one day, on the way from Droitwich to Shrewsbury.  The utter hopelessness, nastiness, greediness, selfishness and meanness of my fellow travelers  none of whom appeared to be poverty-stricken or illiterate, was appalling.

    As are the roving gangs of foul-mouthed and threatening youths who wander the streets of the smallest and most picturesque and ancient towns and villages.

    Face it:  Orwell was right.  Big Brother prospers because people want him, come to need Him, and come to love Him.  And not even Margaret Thatcher, nor Ronald Reagan, nor Stephen Harper can fix that in the face of the determined opposition of a populace that craves enslavement.

    Those who nibble around the edges of the problem, (as did Mitt Romney in his rare forays into forthrightness) are condemned and sent to Coventry.

  6. Owl of Minerva

    The discussion here is two steps away from Tin Foil Hat Country. Too often, members here make the same bad assumptions that progressives made during the Bush years. Among them, one of the worst is the notion that the American people are naturally constituents of a particular ideology, and the only reason they are not is the result of some malevolent subversion (Haliburton, Marxism) the people helpless to recognize–except the for the elect on the margins who prophesy in vain.

    It is simply not so, but for those who consider themselves the elect, there is certainly an invincible feeling of superiority. The feeling is invincible because the narrative is air tight (if the elect lose, it’s because of the malevolent force; if they win, it’s because the Americans are realizing their error). It is superior because, by virtue of making the observation, the observer counts herself as one of the elect.

    I believe that this problem of “epistemic closure” (to use a term gaining traction in the press) is what Rob Long so frequently rails against in the podcasts.

  7. Spin

    The real question is why did Thatcher do nothing about the state of dental care in England.  Nor did she do away with black pudding.  Could the two be related?  I wonder…

  8. She
    Ken Owsley: The real question is why did Thatcher do nothing about the state of dental care in England.  Nor did she do away with black pudding.  Could the two be related?  I wonder… · 13 minutes ago

    Oh, come on!  I love black pudding.  And I am surprised that it’s still called that, political correctness being what it is.

    I was delighted to find, on marrying into an ethnically Polish family that kiszka is the same thing, and that I can get still it at several local butchers around here.

    My childhood dentist was a love.  Dr. Hollick in Edgbaston.  His surgery was in the living room of his house, and I remember being knocked out with gas when I needed to have a tooth pulled.

    The best thing about the going to the dentist though, was the Swan or Vesta matchbox that I would take with me when I left, which contained a small blob of mercury.  I dearly loved to play with it . . . and I’ve lived to tell the tale.

    Thankfully, good teeth run in the family.  In general, I’m with you on that point, though.

  9. She
    Owl of Minerva: The discussion here is two steps away from Tin Foil Hat Country. Too often, members here make the same bad assumptions that progressives made during the Bush years. Among them, one of the worst is the notion that the American people are naturally constituents of a particular ideology, and the only reason they are not is the result of some malevolent subversion (Haliburton, Marxism) the people helpless to recognize–except the for the elect on the margins who prophesy in vain.

    It is simply not so,  . . .

    Are you saying that you believe that, in terms of politics, academia, media and law, the playing field is ‘level’ (to use a term gaining traction in the press)?

  10. Peter Robinson
    C

    It seems somehow unfair, Andrew, that a man with a fine enough head for finance to have made an enviable living at in in London and New York should also possess so firm a grasp on history and such a wonderfully deft way with prose.  

    But I’ll take that up with Providence.  What I have to say to you, simply, is thanks.  That question of morale seems central–as does your observation about economic growth.  “When a country no longer believes that it can increase the size of the pie, the debate over how divide it becomes very ugly, very quickly.”

  11. Southern Pessimist

    There’s nothing genteel about decline. 

    No, there is not. Welcome to Ricochet, Andrew. There are a few optimists here but they are hard to find.

  12. Indaba

    Black Swan (not black pudding), I am with you about the CBC and the Canadian psyche not appreciating Harper. My entire office adores Harper which is fantastic but we are in the finance business, working with business owners, seeing their real take home pay and seeing their 2nd mortgages while they run lines of credit with no pensions.

    I spoke to a tremendous entrepreneur today who said people are not wanting to mortgage their homes to be entrepreneurs. We are all comfortable enough. The layers of government pile up. A simple restaurant must go through so many layers just to get going. Then the Canadian customer pays 13% tax and 15% to the waiter. A third of the cost of our meal.

    Why do tax payers not revolt? Complacency. The business owners’ four o’clock in the morning worrying is just not known by a politician like Obama or Blair or Brown. Nor is it recognized by the Churches because they preach give to the poor but give no comfort to thise carrying the responsibility if so many lives under the umbrella of theur business.

  13. Paul L.
    Andrew Stuttaford: No student of Burke, she allowed some of the glue that held the country together to come unstuck to a dangerous degree.

    I would be interested in some specific examples of this.

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