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above: The Angelus by Jean-François Millet [Image by: Multiple Artists / CC0 in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons, cropped and resized]

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Our Recessional Culture

I was born in 1964, in a country that most people, inside America and out, regarded as the greatest on the planet. Indeed, many felt that America in the early 1960s was the greatest country there had ever been.

There was little reason at the time to question this consensus. Americans enjoyed a standard of living that no other country could match and that most could not even imagine. Americans’ strong belief in their country was not significantly challenged by either the Great Depression or World War II, and America emerged from that terrible war stronger than when it went in. It had the most powerful military the country had ever known, an economy producing an unprecedented share of the world’s wealth, and a popular culture that produced movies, music, and books enjoyed the world over and which exert an influence that is still felt today.

The only significant alternative to the American model was communism. The failures of communism were demonstrated by the bodyguards needed to prevent Soviet athletes and artists from defecting whenever they were outside the Iron Curtain, and by all the border walls communists needed, not for the usual reason of keeping intruders out, but for the novel reason of keeping natives from leaving.

All of this seems far away from the depressing reality of 2020. A few statistics bring home how precipitous our decline has been since that period of peak America. According to the Federal Reserve Bank...

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