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‘In America, It’s Always 1945.’

A week ago today in France, I had lunch with an American businessman friend, an expatriate of conservative political disposition. We talked about the upcoming presidential election in France, and about our own election back home. I told him that though I was a conservative, I was profoundly alienated from the American political conversation right now, because it seemed so unreal to me, and so disconnected from the real challenges facing the country.

Though he’s watching our politics as an intellectually engaged American conservative living overseas, he agreed, though for his own particular reasons. He said that once you’re outside the American bubble, the epistemic closure of American politicians of both the left and the right is astonishing.

“For both the Republicans and the Democrats, it’s always 1945,” he said. “They really do think that America is always on top of the world, and it always will be that way — that we just have to make a few adjustments, and everything will stay this way forever. And you know, the politicians act this way because the voters would punish them if they tell them the truth.”

The businessman said that in his travels, it’s startling to see how much better prepared work forces in other countries are for economic life as it’s actually going to be lived in this century. He said too that there is a conviction among the international business elites — including Americans, and not just Europe-based, but all over the world — that at a certain point in your career and the life of your family, you don’t want to be transferred to America, because you don’t want your children to be ruined by American culture. In what way? I asked. I wish I had been taking notes, but I didn’t, because this was a friendly lunch. But as best I can recall, he said that generally, the intellectual laziness and sense of entitlement (e.g., that the world owes them a high standard of living without much effort), is at the heart of it.

The businessman’s children are in French schools, and he said the degree of rigor, and lack of therapeutic sensitivities in the pedagogical process, would bug out the eyes of Americans. In his judgment, the French go too far in some ways, but mostly he respects the seriousness with which the French take the process of education. Of course France has big problems too (e.g., educating the kids from the suburbs, which are the French urban version of the projects), so we were only speaking in generalities; besides which, the businessman and his wife are Americans, and want to raise their kids as Americans, despite it all, so they’ll be moving back in the next couple of years, most likely. Still, he worries for his country’s future, because of what they see as imperial decadence (my phrase, not his), and an inability, or unwillingness, of the American political system to confront the real problems facing the nation.

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64 Comments To "‘In America, It’s Always 1945.’"

#1 Comment By David J. White On April 17, 2012 @ 11:58 am

Don Quijote, I appreciate your comments about the place of the Marshall Plan in the scheme of things, but you seem to have completely missed the part of my post where I include, in the US subsidy of postwar Europe, the fact that the US footed much of the cost of Europe’s defense during the Cold War. Sure that added a lot to the bill. Nor did I imply that the US subsidy of Europe was the only, or the largest, expediture of the US during the postwar period, so I really don’t see quite what your point is.

#2 Comment By Don Quijote On April 17, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

David,

I think that you the give the US tax payer far too much credit for the European economic success of the last half century.

How many hundreds of billions have been sent to the middle East and the day the Oil runs out, what will the Middle East have to show for all that money? Where are the Middle Eastern Siemens, Alcatel, Renaults, EDF, Airbus, Dassault, Mercedes, Fiat, BMW, etc? What industry other than pumping Oil out of the ground is the Middle East a leader in?

#3 Comment By J On April 17, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

We’re at the most embarrassing portion of the cycle in American politics that ends in major reform- the regressive phase.

People who don’t understand or trust the cycle (that’s 99.8% of foreigners and ex-pats, and 95% of Americans) tend to draw sneering general conclusions from this fairly transient situation that reality then never bears out. True, 2013-14 are going to be a horror. But after that very painful lesson the skepticism toward basic social democratization will fall below the critical level. Liberals will push through reforms a few years later and we’ll move on to the next thing.

As for the dissolute agedness/obsolescence and decadence and neglect of American culture, that’s very much the pre-’68 culture going into ugly senescence writ large. And spitefully enforced on the society by their dwindling and now quite narrow majority. When my parents (in their 70s) who are not exactly liberal or poor go visit their relatively well off friends/peers in large groups- which are always dominated by conservatives these days- they afterwards tend to report to me “Your generation isn’t all great but ours is The Problem With America. Just hope to God ours doesn’t wreck the place completely before we go. These people have no real comprehension of the realities in which their grandchildren have to live.”

When the American cultural majority tips in a few years we will see the current decadence go away.

Btw, I’m curious what the latest projections for collapse of the Euro and the EU are. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

#4 Comment By Franklin Evans On April 17, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

“Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” — Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

The one thing we (general) fear the most — change — is a thing that is both ubiquitous and (in hindsight, of course) of the least impact.

#5 Comment By Peter On April 17, 2012 @ 5:20 pm

Europe spends $250 billion a year on military spending. Sounds plenty to me.

#6 Comment By AnotherBeliever On April 17, 2012 @ 9:03 pm

The Marshall Plan certainly got Europe restarted, but they very quickly took on the momentum for themselves.

IanH, no, not cut and paste. Written under the influence of a migraine only half under control, a practice which I cannot recommend. Notice the herky-jerky texture, the jagged mish-mash of idioms. No doubt my brainwaves looked similar at the time. I really did spend half a day at Delhi on both sides of a trip to Kathmandu (have deployment savings, will travel! I also met a couple of Vietnam Veterans on the flight, but that’s another story.) I was struck by the professionalism and confidence of the airline workers, security guards, store clerks, and the general energy of the place. Between that and a new awareness and movement among the population to resist political corruption, they’ll do alright this century, I’d wager.

We’ll do alright, too. We won’t be the most happening place anymore, but what’s the harm in that? As many other posters have pointed out, we do have our advantages. Productivity, higher education, military strength, stable (if not gridlocked) politics, a better demographic balance than most developed countries. The fact that our old paradigms don’t apply to the trends of today’s world will eventually occur to the folks that matter. That or the folks it does occur to will take the reigns by default.

#7 Comment By IanH On April 17, 2012 @ 11:02 pm

“We ‘re talking about a continent in which every major economy was destroyed in 1945”

I guess Spain and Portugal are just figments of my imagination.

“When the American cultural majority tips in a few years we will see the current decadence go away.”

It’s sad that liberals actually believe this. They have these rosy, pie-in-the-sky ideas of how they are going to change the world and create utopia, but it always comes crashing down. And they always end up blaming someone else rather than their own incompetence.

#8 Comment By Don Quijote On April 18, 2012 @ 9:01 am

I guess Spain and Portugal are just figments of my imagination.

Three years of civil war (36 – 39) in Spain followed by forty years of fascism will do wonders for an economy, as for Portugal (a backwater for most of the 19th & 20th century) 30 years of fascism under Salazar was so economically successful that starting in the 60’s Portuguese men & women had to go to France to work as Laborers & Maids…

#9 Comment By Peter On April 18, 2012 @ 11:28 am

Portugal a major European economy? You jest.

#10 Comment By Sean Scallon On April 18, 2012 @ 12:49 pm

There was this fellow who happened to be President of the United States once who did indeed say Americans would have to start sacrificing their standard of living now in order to enjoy any kind of prosperity in the future. In fact, I wrote about this fellow and the speech he gave calling for these things to take place for this magazine ( [1]).

And how was he rewarded for speaking what he sincerely thought was the truth? The American public made sure he was no longer President. And when that happened, the idea that politicians would actually tell the voters the God’s honest truth went out the window, because there was no incentive to do so other than political martyrdom. So they continue to tell lies because we insist they tell lies. And we reward them every time we vote. You get the politicians you deserve.

And I’m sure this has been true in every decline and fall story in history from Rome to the British Empire. Decline and falls happen ignore reality and hold fast to their notions and ideologies no matter how much they speed the downfall along, because it’s safer that way whether you’re a member of the court or member of Parliment.

#11 Comment By J On April 18, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

It’s sad that liberals actually believe this. They have these rosy, pie-in-the-sky ideas of how they are going to change the world and create utopia, but it always comes crashing down. And they always end up blaming someone else rather than their own incompetence.

You’re so precious about your lawn, Mr. H. And if you look up, there are some clouds there to shake your fist and shout at, too!

I look around and I see a world in which the last empires are defeated or crumbling away, the last warlords are soon cornered and dictators falling one by one. Whole continents have lost basis for any further wars and others are soon to follow. Famine and plague and impoverishment and people dying on the streets happen practically only where people inflict them on each other. Good quality civil life is spreading, ever more governments are providing an increasing measure of justice and representation to their people, and people are conforming their behavior and increasing their expectations to this. Ignorance has become a condition of choice rather than necessity- almost any information desired is accessible to anyone these days. In most parts of the world your ethnicity and religion (or lack thereof) will no longer put you in jeopardy of your life. Practically everyone can with some effort find a mate s/he desires, travel widely, and become educated. Societies are researching and correcting their histories and doing much to correct long standing group injustices within themselves.

This is how extensively the liberal project has “failed”: it’s a smashing success worldwide.

#12 Comment By IanH On April 19, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

You’re quite a character J. I assume your referring to Russia when you talk about empires, since you’ve expressed hatred of them in the past. Well Russia is not going anywhere. Neither is China, which despite the wet-dreams of liberal interventionists is not going to collapse anytime soon. Poverty is still widespread in spite of Western claptrap.

If by “whole continents” you mean Europe, I suppose you’re right. It’s also an aging, dying, increasingly irrelevant wasteland of debauchery and depravity. Small gain for the world. Africa is mired in several wars, which come and go every few years. As for Asia, well they’ve got plenty to worry about as it is.

You need to take those blinders off, my friend.

#13 Comment By Lewis Grant On April 21, 2012 @ 3:28 am

The fact that this gentleman seems to regard American society as nothing but aristocracy and underclass, completely ignoring everyone in between, says rather more about him and the skewed view he’s getting over on his perch in Paris.

Unlike virtually every other industrialized country, the US is in the more-income-unequal half of the world. On the Gini index of income inequality, the US is sandwiched between Gabon and Turkmenistan, those beacons of economic justice.

What’s more, an American University study recently showed that there is less class mobility in the US than in most other industrialized countries (about 10 listed in the study).

The statistics show that America is increasingly becoming stratified into de facto aristocracy and underclass. Americans tend to assume that such a thing is prima facie impossible, because the idea of America is (and has always been) anti-aristocratic. But this belief seems to hide the reality (perhaps an instance of epistemic closure?).

#14 Comment By Electile Disfunction On April 24, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

I admit I rarely visit conservative sites. I find the level of ignorance and bigotry from the Foxnews crowd depressing. What I found here (at least in these comments) was a well informed discussion and a good level of understanding of the state of the country and the wider world. It gives me a bit of hope.