Thursday, April 07, 2011

[How] Will Western Civilization Fall?

Stephan Balch at PJMedia asks "Is our civilization a bubble?" (via Instapundit). While there may be some cause for concern, there's greater cause for optimism:

For about the last two hundred years (three in a few locales), the fundamental structure of Western civilization has been anomalous in a crucial way. The anomaly consists in this: whereas in the overwhelming majority of societies the dominant route to wealth and status has been through political control, essentially the use of force or threat of force to extract value from others, in the West it has generally been through exchanges in which the parties have choices, and in which value must be returned for value received if the transaction is to consummate. We’re so conditioned to this, to the fact that our great fortunes belong to entrepreneurs, inventors, magnates, entertainers, and athletes, people who make (or do) things that others want, rather than to royalty, nobility, high priests, mandarins, court favorites and military leaders, people who take in taxes and booty things that others would prefer to keep, that we — very much including historians, journalists, and social commentators of almost every stripe — give little or no thought to it, considering it pretty much the natural order of things. But our exchange-oriented social order does not represent the natural order of things, and what it anomalously results in is of enormous –though perhaps ultimately self-destructive — consequence.
While popular academics like Jared Diamond fret over environmental catastrophes (Amazon), I think they underestimate the capacity of this system to adapt.

As Brink Lindsey points out in Against the Dead Hand (Amazon), it's a system that has come less from design than from default and accident - and it's one that can be undone.

Does this make our civilization a bubble? If this is question with respect to whether our civilization is unsustainable, I think the answer is an emphatic no. This also does not however mean that the anomaly cannot be undone through our "self destructive" tendencies - or as Lindsey calls it, the Dead Hand.

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