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Here is a most intriguing article on the constant diatribes opining that America is about to fail. I’m not sure I agree with all its conclusions, but its certainly very well written and certainly poses a lot of food for thought. I thoroughly recommend you read it (as an aside, I’m rather a fan of the Atlantic magazine, though I only ever read it online).

If you ask me though, the great difficulty in channelling Nostradamus is that none of us have ever lived through more than one era. The modern American has lived through an attack on American soil which killed several thousand people. But worse times have happened – during the War of Independence, the White House itself was apparently scorched when the British invaded. Without that its so hard to keep things in proper perspective and the Atlantic article does a superlative job of reminding us of that perspective.

But what’s more, even if we had lived through that era, how much can any one man see from his limited perch on life? Whether a man saw an activist court forcing the states to give those former slaves more rights than they deserved, or whether a man saw the Supreme Court uphold the Constitution and the rights it was sworn to defend is a matter of geography – did he live in the South or in the East?

To my mind, the great flaws with America have always been there. Are immigrants undertrodden and forced to work harder than the white majority? Perhaps that is the case. And perhaps that was true for the Jewish and Catholic immigrants struggling to survive in the few decades after the Great Depression. Now you would be hard pressed to say that either race is systemically discriminated against. Of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, only one is neither Jewish nor Catholic – Justice John Paul Stephens who is set to either die or retire. And they do not only dominate in law (Skadden Arps and many of the dominant NY law firms were founded by Jews), but also in finance – we have all heard the overwrought stereotype that Jews hoard all the money. We’ve all seen the Dan Brown novels alleging some great Catholic stranglehold over the highest levels of government.

Is America less cultured or less educated than all the world? Watching Beyonce and Brittany one would have difficulty arguing otherwise, but if that were the case America has always been less cultured. In the 1980s, it was disco what were destroying our morality and our nation. In the 1960s it were jazz. In the 1930s it was swing music and those scandalous skirts that showed oh so much knee. And throughout those times, Americans denounced poindexters and ivory tower intellectuals in universities – even as they applauded the space race and before that the race to build the bomb.

The great flaws that America has – her useless government, her lack of culture and education, her rampant individualism leading to gross social inequality – these flaws have not only always existed, but they are perhaps the source of America’s greatness. Even whilst these forces have been seething beneath the surface threatening to destroy America, forces elsewhere perfectly counterbalanced them. Whilst Beyonce was shaking her jiggly bits, conservatives were mobilising to protect the family and traditional marriage. Whilst conservatives denounced knowledge and evidence, America’s universities remained the best in the world. Even now, UC San Diego has something like 12 living Nobel laureates associated with it. That’s more than Australia has ever had in total, whether alive or dead, whether citizen or expat.

Constitutional lawyers refer to America’s 50 states as ‘laboratories of federalism’ – each state government testing out its own government programs. If they fail, they try again. If they succeed, those programs are copied ad nauseam by the other states until they become the norm. But its more than that. It’s more than just the law and government -its the entire society which benefits. In America today, think of how many different strands of music there are. Hip hop, rap, the blues, rock from the cities. Country music, country rock, Christian rock from the country. Some experiments fail (after all, looking at emaciated goths and emos, its hard to describe them as anything but the failed experiment of some mad geneticist). But others succeed wildly and are emulated across the world. Think alternative music, think Michael Jackson.

But more than being fifty disparate places, America manages to unite these states into one country. Her great universities suck up the smartest kids from across the country – leaving more kids than they take and leaving those kids with massive social inequalities – like some scientist harvesting the best plants from her experiment. Hollywood and Broadway suck up the best singers. Football takes the jocks. The countervailing forces throb and pulse with opposite beats. Even as business leaders pride themselves on practical rather than academic knowledge, investment banks and law firms hoover up the best and brightest of Harvard graduates. Even as American counter-culture derides the man, white music producers sign yet another contract with the latest rap band.

Far be it from being the end of history, America’s distinctive flaws are what make her great. Her individualism fails to nourish the talent in those without the opportunity to display it, but it also propels many to unparalleled heights that other nations cannot match. It’s a culture that can only exist in one place – the United States of America.


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