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The Next Conservatism: The U.S. House of Cards

Monday, 05 December 2005 12:00 AM

Paul Weyrich asked me to turn my historian's eye on the question of "Where are we?" – which he has considered from several aspects in his last two columns. I am afraid my answer to that question cannot be an encouraging one. From an historical perspective, we are living in a house of cards.

Internationally, we have committed the classic error of dominant powers: overextension. By adopting an offensive grand strategy that demands everyone else in the world accept the values of "democratic capitalism" – the neocons' little present to the rest of us – we have overreached. We are now bogged down in two wars, in Iraq and in Afghanistan. Every indication I see, as a military historian, tells me we are not winning and will not win either one.

While most Americans, not just conservatives, would be happy to take care of ourselves and let the rest of the world take care of itself, the Washington Establishment lives off the "Great Power" game. Will the loss of two wars force that Establishment to face reality? Probably not, at least until, in classic Great Power fashion, it bankrupts the country. The U.S. defense budget already equals what all the rest of the countries in the world spend for defense. No nation can sustain that burden without financial collapse.

In fact, we are already in over our heads financially, as the national debt and the trade deficit show. When those bills come due, the only way we will be able to pay them is by inflating the currency. Inflation, in turn, if it is severe enough, undermines and eventually destroys the middle class, another classic event in a Great Power's fall.

Already, America's middle class is being eroded by the export of manufacturing jobs under the rubric of "free trade," to which both political parties seem to have sworn blood oaths. People cannot sustain middle-class standards of living with "service industry" jobs, as is evident in any Third World country. In fact, America's economy already shows a classic Third World pattern, exporting commodities and importing manufactured goods.

Added to imperial overreach, financial imprudence and voluntary de-industrialization is the fact that we are being invaded. Both parties see no evil as millions of immigrants from very different cultures pour into our country through what are effectively open borders. Not only does this further undermine the American middle class by lowering wages, it also sets us up for Fourth Generation war on our own soil. Internal wars are yet another classic element in the fall of a Great Power.

Of course, to all of this we have to add the collapse of our culture, a phenomenon that was no accident. It is the product of a small group of cultural Marxists, the Frankfurt School, whose purpose was to destroy Western culture and who have made remarkable strides to that end. Once a country's culture goes, everything else goes too, sooner or later.

People often ask me if we are seeing a re-enactment of the fall of Rome, and there are certainly some parallels. One could argue that Rome's situation was actually better, in that Christianity was a rising force instead of a declining one (Western culture survived the Dark Ages by hiding out in the monasteries).

But there is a parallel I like better, and that is Spain in the 17th century. Spain was the first true world power, with a globe-circling empire. She was enormously rich (when the Spanish Armada was destroyed, King Philip II just built another one). By the first half of the 17th century, when Spain's power was beginning to totter (thanks once again to imperial overextension and financial imprudence), many leading Spaniards saw that reform and retrenchment were needed. They put forward well-considered plans for such reform, some of which would probably have worked.

But none of the reform programs could cut through the power of the interests at court that lived off Spain's decay – just as powerful interests in Washington live off our decay. I think that if Spain's equivalent of a prime minister at that time, the Count-Duke of Olivares, were to find himself in today's Washington, it would all feel very familiar (if you want to read a good book on Spain's decline and fall, I recommend J.H. Elliott's biography of Olivares).

America may be luckier than Spain, and perhaps we will be able to deal with our foreign policy, military, financial, trade and cultural crises separately, over time. But I think the greater probability is that they will come in close enough succession that they will feed on and magnify each other, until they become a single vast, systemic crisis – the fall of the house of cards. That creates a vacuum which, in the old days, usually resulted in a change of dynasties (from the Hapsburgs to the Bourbons, in Spain's case).

What does that mean for the next conservatism? It means conservatives should get ready now in order to fill that vacuum when it comes.

William S. Lind is Director for the Center for Cultural Conservatism of the Free Congress Foundation.


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Paul Weyrich asked me to turn my historian's eye on the question of "Where are we?" - which he has considered from several aspects in his last two columns. I am afraid my answer to that question cannot be an encouraging one. From an historical perspective, we are living in...
Monday, 05 December 2005 12:00 AM
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