Monday, September 12, 2011

* Sixty Million Deaths (60,000,000)

Is America going down?


Adam Gopnik

The New Yorker

September 12, 2011

What's worth saving about "the West" is the moral achievements that have flowed from it. The emancipation of women and their integration on equal terms in education, the granting of civil rights to homosexuals, the removal, at least formally, of racial discrimination --- these are not a common feature of prosperous or declining empires but unique moral achievements of this one. There's no pattern in history to compare us to, because nothing like us has ever happened before. the lessons of declinism are manifold, but the central one is that obsessively fretting about your possible decline can be a good way to produce it. None of the things that let the West run the show in the past were the result of worrying about China; when Watt perfected his steam engine, he was not worrying that someone was making one in Cathay. Only late in the nineteenth century did Britain begin to be infected by paranoia about the rise and consolidation of Germany, its schemes in Africa, Russian ambitions in Afghanistan  and India --- all of them pure prestige-and-status chimeras. Colonialism didn't even pay; Germany could have had all of Africa and British productivity would have scarcely been affected. But the paranoia led to the Great War and to the catastrophes that followed.  That's a lot of death --- sixty million needless deaths  --to get back to the starting point that was available in 1914, if you were willing to settle not just for a slightly smaller piece of a significantly bigger pie but for a slightly smaller place setting on a much expanded table. Faced with the same choice now, would we make the same error?

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