Commentary: Historians warning of a sudden ‘thief at night,’ an ‘accelerating car crash’
By Paul B. Farrell,
March 09, 2010 “MarketWatch” — “One of the disturbing facts of history is that so many civilizations collapse,” warns anthropologist Jared Diamond in “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” Many “civilizations share a sharp curve of decline. Indeed, a society’s demise may begin only a decade or two after it reaches its peak population, wealth and power.”
Now, Harvard’s Niall Ferguson, one of the world’s leading financial historians, echoes Diamond’s warning: “Imperial collapse may come much more suddenly than many historians imagine. A combination of fiscal deficits and military overstretch suggests that the United States may be the next empire on the precipice.” Yes, America is on the edge.
Dismiss his warning at your peril. Everything you learned, everything you believe and everything driving our political leaders is based on a misleading, outdated theory of history. The American Empire is at the edge of a dangerous precipice, at risk of a sudden, rapid collapse.
Ferguson is brilliant, prolific and contrarian. His works include the recent “Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World;” “The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World;” “Colossus: The Rise and Fall of The American Empire;” and “The War of the World,” a survey of the “savagery of the 20th century” where he highlights a profound “paradox that, though the 20th century was ‘so bloody,’ it was also ‘a time of unparalleled progress.'”
Why? Throughout history imperial leaders inevitably emerge and drive their nations into wars for greater glory and “economic progress,” while inevitably leading their nation into collapse. And that happens suddenly and swiftly, within “a decade or two.”
You’ll find Ferguson’s latest work, “Collapse and Complexity: Empires on the Edge of Chaos,” in Foreign Affairs, the journal of the Council of Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank. His message negates all the happy talk you’re hearing in today’s news — about economic recovery and new bull markets, about “hope,” about a return to “American greatness” — from Washington politicians and Wall Street bankers.
‘Collapse of All Empires:’ 5 stages repeating through the ages
Ferguson opens with a fascinating metaphor: “There is no better illustration of the life cycle of a great power than ‘The Course of Empire,’ a series of five paintings by Thomas Cole that hangs in the New York Historical Society. Cole was a founder of the Hudson River School and one of the pioneers of nineteenth-century American landscape painting; in ‘The Course of Empire,’ he beautifully captured a theory of imperial rise and fall to which most people remain in thrall to this day. Each of the five imagined scenes depicts the mouth of a great river beneath a rocky outcrop.”
If you’re unable to see them at the historical society, they’re all reproduced in Foreign Affairs, underscoring Ferguson’s warnings that the “American Empire on the precipice,” near collapse.