The United States is a empire. Some cheer that fact. I'm not one of them, and I consider such people deluded, since all empires fail, and it's going to happen to the United States , too.
There are several reasons why all empires fail, but there are two that stand out: the financialization of the economy, and an intolerant "us vs. them" religion.
Those two reasons brought down the British, Spanish and Dutch empires in the last several hundred years. If you want to go a little further back, those reasons also brought down Rome . Edward Gibbon, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, went so far as to blame Rome 's collapse almost completely on an intolerant Christianity.
Developing countries start out as agricultural nations, then they become industrialized, then in their decline the economy is mostly "financial services." Sound familiar? It sure does, doesn't it?
Unfortunately, the people who are supposed to have the smarts -- whom I refer to as "high-IQ idiots" -- spout nonsense from their offices at Harvard and Yale and Princeton about how this financialization is the "new economy" and how it will enrich all of us, instead of the truth -- that it will impoverish all of us.
This financialization always follows the same pattern -- the outsourcing of industries, shuffling money around instead of making things, massive debt, the devaluation and manipulation of the currency, and stagnant or declining wages. This is exactly what has been happening in the U.S. And I'm going to repeat what I just said -- the court intellectuals tell us these bad things are somehow going to make us richer.
It never has in the past, it won't now, and it never will in the future.
(As an aside, I'm amused by "libertarians" who worship Wal-Mart as 'free market' and cannot see it for what it is -- an example of corporatism and the financialization of the American economy).
The second sign of national decline is an intolerant, "us vs. them" religion, as exemplified by the Evangelicals who believe in the Rapture, support Israel, and look forward to the slaughter and destruction of Muslims as signs of the End Times. (Before Islam, it was Communism, before that the Nazis, before that . . . ad infinitum, ad nauseum).
As Kevin Phillips writes in American Theocracy, ". . . while religion has generally served humankind well . . . there have been conspicuous exceptions . . . bloody religious wars, malevolent crusades, and false prophecies."
These End Times beliefs, which fit all of the last eight words in the above paragraph, have never been part of traditional Christianity, and have only gained credence in the last 150 years, in large part due to the malign influence of people like John Darby and Cyrus Scofield. These days, one of the main proponents of these perverse doctrines is the Elmer Gantry huckster and ravening wolf John Hagee, along, of course, with his simple-minded sheeple followers.
This type of close-minded fundamentalist religion generally arises when the believers think their society is under assault to the point of extinction. These people unwittingly believe in the archetype of the horror story -- Order attacked by Chaos. Yet in their delusions, they support Chaos -- they somehow think supporting war, slaughter and destruction (approved by their God) is somehow going to bring peace.
In other words, the financialization of the economy, and the resulting impoverishment of the middle classes, feeds into fundamentalist religion -- because it gives their troubled members great comfort to believe in a coming better world.
As Martin Marty and R. Scott Appleby write in Fundamentalism Observed, "Fundamentalisms arise in times of crisis, real or perceived . . . the crisis is perceived by those who fear extinction as a people."
As I see it, the financialization of the economy is based on greed, and fundamentalist religion is based on self-righteousness. Both are based on what I consider the only true crime -- hubris, which I like to define as cheerfully and without guilt seeing millions of other people as disposable pieces on your chessboard.
Hubris, as the Greeks noticed, is followed by Nemesis. I see it exactly the same as the Biblical saying, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."
In a nutshell, the arrogance and blindness of hubris and overweening pride always leads to some kind of a collapse. It doesn't matter at all how convinced people are that their economic policies and their religion are absolutely true. Reality always trumps their falsehoods.
We can of course save ourselves economically. It's not hard. The financialization of the economy is not free market: It's corporatism, using the State to enrich a very small number of people at the expense of everyone else. So all that is needed to fix that problem is a return to the free market.
The perversion of religion is a bit more difficult. The dangerous simpletons who believe in it generally have to learn their lessons in the School of Hard Knocks (would that it happen only to them and not the innocent). The rabid fundamentalists of the now-defunct English, Spanish and Dutch empires are long gone, along with their empires.
So, there is a good chance that when the American empire comes home and we return to the free market, these people will be relegated to the lunatic fringes as the Bible Thumpers and Holy Rollers that most Americans have traditionally perceived them. To expand on what I wrote before, get rid of the Chaos of the American empire and statist economics, then fundamentalism will greatly diminish, and Order will return.
The one thing I can say, though, beyond all doubt, is that the American empire will collapse abroad and come home. I just can't say when. But I don't think it will be all that long into the future.