Most empires don’t end with a bang, with the spectacles of doomsday prophecies and widespread destruction. What destruction occurs, occurs gradually and without remark. What spectacles happen, happen amidst the pervasive stagnation of the social structure. An empire on the decline cannot be saved, at best the problems can be put off for a little while by unpopular policies.
When did the Roman Empire fall? That’s not something which can be well-dated. When Rome fell to the barbarians the first, second, or third time? When the Eastern Roman Empire was swept away by Muslim invaders in the 15th century? When the empire was no longer politically unified? When the decline was terminal, if that could even be diagnosed? Or, does it still exist today, succeeded by numerous political bodies?
I ask this because, amidst the fallout of the re-election of Barack Obama on Tuesday, there has been a flurry of articles and sentiments spoken by those of a conservative bent who believe that Mitt Romney was the one last true chance to “turn America around” or something like that. What they fail to realize is that Obama is not likely to be the end. He will be one in a long line of increasingly desultory tyrants. Nor would Romney have turned anything around, I am certain of that.
Is the American Empire in decline? Certainly. Is the decline terminal? I am also certain of this. When more than 50 million of a nation will vote for a murderer, there is a deep moral rot that has set in for which no operation will save the patient. But the government will keep doling out our bread, and it will keep providing circuses.
Will it end with a bang? No. There will be a series of tragedies, massacres, dissolutions, controversies, scandals, crises, and collapses. This could go on for several more centuries yet, the decline only becoming apparent from a view a millennium or more out.