Here is Part 1 of the English version of Thomas Fleming's interview with the Serbian magazine Geopolitika, on the decline of America:
Geopolitika: What has happened to the United States? Observers in and outside of America have been commenting on America's decline, both as a world power and as an inspiration and model for other countries. Within living memory, Americans were known as self-reliant, industrious people who believed strongly in the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. In recent years, however, more and more Americans depend directly on government for their income—either as recipients of welfare or as government employees—and the majority appears to acquiesce in the moralizing form of thought-control known as "political correctness. So, our first question is: Do you agree for the most part with this characterization and do you think it is merely a short-term phenomenon or one that has long-term and dire consequences for the American future?
Thomas Fleming: Very briefly and directly, my answer to your first questions is: Yes, the changes you describe are very real, and to your second, that the growing servility in the American character will probably reduce irrevocably the power and influence of the United States. American power at this time rests largely upon the superiority of American weaponry—including, let us remember, the most terrible weapons of mass direction know to the human race—and to the not yet exhausted wealth of natural resources such as oil and natural gas. To some extent, also, the US is living off its reputation—rather like the lingering aroma of a good dinner, after the food has all been eaten.
In fairness, it should also be noted that, despite the ever increasing percentage of Americans living off the taxpayers, American workers at all levels are among the most productive in the world. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that American education, at all levels apart from advanced training in science and technology, is failing dismally when compared with the rest of the developed world. On tests of mathematics and literacy, for example, American students place near the bottom, while at the same time scoring number one in assessment of self-esteem. Our students may not be learning much, but they feel very good about themselves. Even in engineering schools, something like half the students are now foreign-born. When complaints are made, the engineering schools say they have no choice, because Americans simply do not learn enough mathematics.
When to these facts—which cannot be disputed—is added the low birthrate of native-born Americans, particularly in the more productive classes, it is evident that the American future will be a struggle between a dwindling minority of hardworking affluent taxpayers and an insurgent underclass of improvident tax-dependents.
Some American leaders no doubt believe that the US can continue to bluff its way through, rattling sabers, sending drones to kill wedding parties in Yemen, and building up its stock of advanced weapons. They would do well to remember the confidence the Soviet leadership put in its huge army, with its tanks and ICBM missiles. That illusion vanished in Afghanistan, much as America's reputation for invincibility is evaporating in exactly the same place. A nation's best defense does not lie in its offensive and defensive weapons but in the character and morale of the people. As the ancient Spartans replied, when challenged on their lack of defensive walls, "Our men are our walls." No timid and servile people has ever held on very long to empire.
Unlike the French and the British—or the ancient Athenians and Romans--Americans are unwilling even to admit they are an imperial nation. Every war of conquest and rapacity, then, must be portrayed as a defense of democracy or a crusade for human rights. Hilary Clinton, perhaps the least competent diplomat in American history, went so far as to describe American support for the catastrophic events of the "Arab Spring" as a campaign to liberate women from oppression, even when it was obvious that the net effect of the revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt the empowerment of radical Islamists whose goal was the subjugation of women.
Geopolitika: Admittedly, US foreign policy in recent decades has been disastrous, and the economy, taken as a whole, is in decline. But surely, there is more to the United States than wealth and power. It is a vast continental empire of more than 300 million people, living in historically distinct regions and states. What sort of vibrancy survives in, for example, the cultures of New England or the South?
Thomas Fleming: Not a great deal, I am afraid. The growth in the power of the central government—particularly the executive and judicial branches—has reduced the once sovereign states to the level of administrative districts, bound by law to do the bidding of their masters in Washington, D.C. The two national parties seek only to satisfy the interests that put them into office, which means, in effect, that a majority of American taxpaying citizens have been disenfranchised, and power is nominally transferred to a welfare-dependent underclass, whereas in reality it is the politicians and bureaucrats, working in tandem with the greatest business interests, who monopolize actual power. Even rather rich people are powerless. I know a banker, worth over $100 million dollars, who complained to me that "little guys" like him could not practically influence politicians or even fix a parking ticket.
You referred to the cultural vibrancy of Anerica's regions. I travel a great deal within the United States, and while there are large differences between the Midwest and the South, or between Massachusetts and Texas, mass culture is in the process of degrading all American cultures to one very low level. 50 years ago, for example, there were marked differences between Country and Western music, popular especially in the rural South and Midwest, and the pop music of the northern states. The differences went beyond form and style: Country music graphic depicted the ordinary lives of rural men and women, was openly Christian, and, even though there were many songs about marital infidelity, moralistic. Today, these differences have disappeared, and it is no accident that the disgusting pop star Miley Cyrus is the daughter of the popular country singer Billy Ray Cyrus. Father and daughter are purveyors of a humorless and repulsive pornography that no remotely healthy society would tolerate.
The takeover of Southern and Western cultures has been accomplished by a process of commercialization that puts all power in the hands of Hollywood and New York and the mass media. A parallel process has been going on in the realm of high culture, where the intellectual elite at a few dozen major universities has decreed that no one but a bigot could possibly be either Christian or conservative. Only Marxist-feminist-environmentalist arguments are tolerated, and the aesthetic clichés of the 1920s and 1930s avant-garde represent a norm that can only be violated by artists willing to produce "art" that is more ugly, more nonsensical, more violent, and more obscene than had previously been tolerated. Mentally deranged "artists" receive government grants for shooting themselves or performing obscene acts on the stage, and such simple arts as versification or still-life painting have disappeared.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.