Orwell Revisited – Briefly
December 23, 2011
This a link to an article sent to me by a friend and former colleague, which argues that the demise or decline of the American empire will come much more quickly than some like to think. I have two objections to this article.
First, it seems to me to be a “liberal” version of fear-mongering. This is evident in the assumption made throughout the article, an assumption never actually defended, that the end of the American empire represents “decline” for the United States and even bad news for the world. The latter assumption is, for the most part, unspoken or is hidden in the article’s undergrowth, as it were. Also, it seems simplistic to identify the beginning of the end of the empire with Bush’s war in Iraq. More interesting to me, however, is the question of why this should be seen as a “decline.” This could be a good thing. As I wrote to my friend, would it be a bad thing if college athletics returned to a way of operating that was less focused on “glory” and “greatness” and more on what are now called “student athletes?” [Have you ever noticed that some labels become prominent just when they no longer reflect reality? The change from calling it the “War Department” to calling it “the Department of Defense” for example.]
Secondly, this article reminded me of Orwell’s argument in his article, “James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution” that the intelligentsia/manger types worship power and that this comes across as a prejudice that current trends are bound to continue into the future. So, if China and India are rising today, then they will continue to rise tomorrow and into the future. Of course, they present the past in the same way: If something happened, it had to happen because of “history” or of the overwhelming importance of power in directing or controlling human affairs. So, because the US Constitution was written and ratified, it had to be. And this is how history is written for the most part. Orwell also suggests that public opinion is not controlled by the same prejudice or, as he puts it, the same “mental disease.” And this is so because “the public” knows the limits of human power in controlling events. For example, it is the upper classes, those with the most power, who most often abuse that power. Why? Because they have been fooled into thinking that with power they can control events, can control life. The middle and lower classes know better and, hence, are less likely to violate what Orwell calls “the elementary rules” of life.
What we can know is that the American empire will end – because all empires end. What we cannot know is how this will happen or what might replace it.