America in would we know?

I’ve heard it said (in various places) that America is in decline. Personally, I don’t see it, but…how would we know? Did the Roman’s know when they started to decline? How about the British? Did any great civilization from the past perceive that they were in decline?

And how would we judge what being in decline means? If other nations are improving around us at a greater rate, while we improve more slowly, is that decline? What would American decline look like?

Thats pretty much the debate. If you feel we are ALREADY in decline, feel free to explain the hows and whys, what you are using to indicate that we are in decline, what metrics you are using. Otherwise I’m curious as to both the historical question and how a society like ours would perceive its own decline…or if it would at all.

For a bonus how long would American decline take…and what would the end result be? The Roman model? British? Something unique to us?


Of course there’s endless debate about what decline really is. The United States still looks pretty strong if you consider only the military and the economy, though some would say that our increasing dependence on imports is a sign of decline. Some believe that cultural/moral/ethical/religious/artistic decline starts first and leads to political and economic decline after several generations. I’m still not entirely sold on that argument, but I have noted that the USA is imitating some of the themes seen in the decline of the Roman, British, and Ottoman Empires:

  • Massive government corruption.

  • Foolish military misadventures.

  • Serious economic inequality.

  • Serious geographic inequality. (i.e. some parts of the country are much wealthier than others.)

  • High crime rates.

High government corruption and failed military campaigns seem to be the first sign of a “declining” empire.

I don’t think we’re quite at the corruption level of the communists or British monarchy, but I think Americans probably ought to get used to the idea of other countries being more powerful than ours.

[revenge of the nerds]

POINDEXTER: [puff-puff-cough] Would you rather live in the decline of a civilization, or during its ascendancy?

OMEGA MU CHICK: Do you wanna fuck?!


If corruption is a sign of decline, China’s government is infinitely more corrupt than ours. Are they due for decline, too?

High crime rates?? Last time I checked crime today is LOWER then it was, say in the 70s in many urban areas of the U.S.

Sometimes viewing statistics about the United States (like the power of the dollar, or levels of education) I get depressed. In reality though, when you look at the size of our economy compared with the rest of the world, it is insane. The money is definitely still flowing, and our military is decades beyond 99% of the world, though I feel that Europe and China are catching up. While Europe seems no threat to me because they’ve always been strong allies (so what’s good for them is good for us I think), China has huge industrial might and manpower. I believe that our presence in Iraq is due almost solely to China’s interest in the resources of the Middle East and Africa. They’re intentionally keeping their money value low to promote net exports, and so we’ve decided to make it harder for them to purchase world resources like oil with that deflated money. I’m not sure if they’ll pass us anytime soon, but they’re definitely on the right track if we play our cards wrong. Anyway, back on topic…

I think a nice summary is always The Cycle of Democracy:

I’m not saying this is 100% accurate, but if you look at where the United States is in this list, I’d say we’re somewhere between apathy and dependency, and we definitely have learned to vote for the candidate that promises the most benefits from the public treasury.

My own opinion - I don’t think we’re on the decline, I’d place us more at the top of the hump, and we’re in a transition period where we could go up further or down.

Oscar Wilde: America is the first country to have gone from barbarism to decadence without the usual intervening period of civilization

No, that would be Mexico.

Agrarian civilizations declined because they expanded their boarders beyond their permanent control with no technology or administrative advances to cover the distance. It may be argued that the British Empire did not in fact decline. The Raj in particular was simply an over extension of government support after the Indian Mutiny…before then it was simply the British East India Company. The UK currently has great trade status with it’s Commonwealth nations that were once the Empire and now doesn’t have to spend the money and resources managing and defending them. Americas tack is much different. If we decline (or if we already are) it wont resemble Britain or Rome.

By “decline,” do you mean irreversible decline? Do you mean that the nation has passed the point beyond which it might reasonably hope to reverse its fortunes? Because frankly, with our debt (both public and private), the loss of control of our borders, and the hollowing-out of our economy, I have the horrible feeling that we’re already in a state of decline. I just wonder if it’s reversible.


If that list is true (if) I wouldn’t place the U.S. where you did. I would say we are between abundance and selfishness.

Seems to me that ‘decline’ would be apparant when a huge military defeat is suffered. It means that the ascendency has been ‘checked’. It doesn’t mean collapse is imminent but that the upswing is muted. (thinking Ottoman Empire or Roman empire here for reference)

The U.S. losing in Vietnam or Iraq wouldn’t qualify as huge…I’m thinking ‘lose half our navy in a battle in the Indian ocean’ sort of thing. Now, we could recover, or maybe not. That ‘vibrancy’ would show whether decline is in or not.

Other signs of a permanent decline could be (I would think) political instability where infrastructure/treasury is hurt badly. Civil war, succession struggles etc. Now, not all these are bad…it could be a sign of vibrancy (in a demented way :P) and not a sign of decline. However, if it continues with the wealth of the people devoted to these and infrastucture/unity being consumed that could be a sign of permanant decline.

I’m sure there are many others (corruption, inefficiency and so on)

I think the U.S. is still in ascendency and not in decline.

From today’s NYT:

China Executes Ex-Regulator

“China executed its former top food and drug regulator for taking bribes to approve untested medicines, as leaders scrambled to show that China was serious about improving safety.”

Maybe we should take a page from China’s efforts to clean up its act. :dubious:

Not always. Those were characteristics of the UK in 1783 – but they were just getting started as an empire!

First: the USA is NOT an empire-not in any sense (Roman, British, etc.). the USA has established a kind of cultural hegemony , over the world (based upon fast food, pop music, and certain forms of government). But, the USA never had an empire, unless you count the territories (Philippines, puerto Rico, Guam) acquired during our only imperialiostic war (1898-99). As for the USA being in economic decline, i would say it is in relative decline-sure the EU is getting bigger-but the USA was on top (1945-1965), by virtue of NOT haveing a war-devasted economy.
I find the comparisons to rome pretty stupid-the UK is more prosperous NOW, than at any time when it had its huge empire-the avaerage Englishman is much better off, than when his grandparents lived. Or Rome: Rome declined because of a combination of external factors, abetted by the over-centralizing of power. still, things were much better (in AD 400) than they were in AD 100, for the average Roman.
The big problem for the USA: how to deal with the coming sharp rise in the price of energy. And, yes, we’d be much better off without foreign wars.

Proof that capital punishment isn’t a perfect deterrent.
But yeah, by holding the leaders accountable, that would help everyone out in the long run.

Hasn’t the U.S. had these problems since the beginning?

Off the top of my head,
Massive corruption: the Grant administration
Foolish adventures: War of 1812, Spanish-American War
Economic inequality: depressions/panics every 20 years in the 1800s
Geographic inequality: the South until recently
High crime rates: Whiskey Rebellion, Prohibition Era

I don’t see that our problems any worse than before.

Have you forgotten that we’re fighting an imperialistic war now? (Hegemony is the 21st-Century incarnation of imperialism. Same wine, new bottle.)

Oh, so you believe that we intend to occupy iraq and implant a US-style government upon them? fat chance of that! We have been trying to get rid of Puerto Rico for 70+ years-and it wants to stay! I don’t see any public support for this!

Where is the hegemony? How are you defining imperialism and an imperialistic war here exactly? Granted there is a lot wrong with the Iraqi invasion…but we don’t SEEM to be emulating an imperialist model…at least not as I understand the term anyway.