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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Reading List: After America

Steyn, Mark. After America. Washington: Regnery Publishing, 2011. ISBN 978-1-596-98100-3.
If John Derbyshire's We Are Doomed (October 2009) wasn't gloomy enough for you, this book will have you laughing all way from the event horizon to the central singularity toward which what remains of Western civilisation is free falling. In the author's view, the West now faces a perfect storm of demographic collapse (discussed in detail in his earlier America Alone [November 2006]); financial cataclysm due to unsustainable debt and “entitlement” commitments made by the welfare state; a culture crash after two generations have been indoctrinated in dependency, multiculturalism, and not just ignorance but a counterfactual fantasy view of history; and a political and cultural élite which has become so distinct and disconnected from the shrinking productive classes it almost seems to be evolving into a separate species.

Steyn uses H. G. Wells's The Time Machine as his guide to the future, arguing that Wells got the details right but that bifurcation of mankind into the effete Eloi and the productive but menacing Morlocks is not in the remote future, but has already happened in Western society in every sense but the biological, and even that is effectively the case as the two castes increasingly rarely come into contact with one another, no less interbreed. The Eloi, what Angelo Codevilla called The Ruling Class (October 2010), are the product of top-ranked universities and law schools and dominate government, academia, and the media. Many of them have been supported by taxpayers their entire lives and have never actually done anything productive in their careers. The Obama administration, which is almost devoid of individuals with any private sector experience at the cabinet level, might be deemed the first all-Eloi government in the U.S. As Wells's Time Traveller discovered, the whole Eloi/Morlock thing ended badly, and that's what Steyn envisions happening in the West, not in the distant future or even by mid-century, but within this decade, absent radical and painful course changes which are difficult to imagine being implemented by the feckless political classes of Europe, the U.S., and Japan.

In a chilling chapter, Steyn invokes the time machine once again to deliver a letter from the middle of our century to a reader in the America of 1950. In a way the world he describes would be as alien to its Truman administration reader as any dystopian vision of Wells, Orwell, or Huxley, and it is particularly disturbing to note that most of the changes he forecasts have already taken place or their precipitating events already underway in trends which are either impossible or extremely difficult to reverse. A final chapter, which I'll bet was added at the insistence of the publisher, provides a list of things which might be done to rescue the West from its imminent demise. They all make perfect sense, are easily understood, and would doubtless improve the situation even if inadequate to entirely avoid the coming calamity. And there is precisely zero chance of any of them being implemented in a country where 52.9% of the population voted for Barack Obama in 2008, at the tipping point where a majority dependent on the state and state employees who tend to them outvote a minority of productive taxpayers.

Regular readers of Steyn's columns will find much of this material familiar—I suspect there was more than a little cut and paste in assembling this manuscript. The tone of the argument is more the full-tilt irony, mockery, and word play one expects in a column than the more laid back voice customary in a book. You might want to read a chapter every few days rather than ploughing right through to the end to avoid getting numbed. But then the writing is so good it's difficult to put down.

In the Kindle edition, end notes are properly linked to the text and in notes which cite a document on the Web, the URL is linked to the on-line document. The index, however, is simply a useless list of terms without links to references in the text.

Posted at August 21, 2011 22:27