American Decline

The Perils of a Dis-United States

Some handwringing from Neocon Review, and this piece is two years old, from before the pandemic.

By Fred Bauer, National Review

In the latest issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows turns to the fall of the Roman empire and finds that it wasn’t all that bad! “Late antiquity” (as some scholars now term the era after fall of Rome in the West) was a time of great cultural innovation, through which many of the forms that characterize modern Europe evolved. According to this narrative, Rome’s collapse led not to bloody anarchy but to productive decentralization.

In light of this account of the end of Rome, Fallows argues that the current pressures facing the United States might augur better things. While the federal government might be paralyzed, new policy ideas are arising at the local level. For instance, Ball State University has taken on the responsibility of administering the school system of Muncie, Ind. Though he does hope that the national government will get its house in order, Fallows suggests there might be some benefits from a more disintegrated, less united United States. This decentralization could even open new frontiers in foreign policy. He quotes Anne-Marie Slaughter, a foreign-policy doyenne and head of the think tank New America: “You could imagine Texas working with Mexico, and New England with Canada — and the upper-Midwest states as a bloc, and the Pacific Northwest.”

One of the strengths of the American system is that it has some level of decentralization, and that capacity for local experimentation and self-governance has long added to the vitality of the republic. But localism alone might not compensate for the loss of national integrity. The fall of Rome had costs, and American disunion might have its own price.


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