America and Decline

Why is it, we might ask ourselves, that America seems to have been largely (albeit certainly not completely) immune to providentiality? Virtually since the United States appeared on the world stage there have been confident predictions that the country would soon enter a period of inexorable decline. Some of these predictions were based on the view that all successful civilizations pass through various stages, with a robust, dominating stage certain to be succeeded by a self-indulgent, dissipated stage, followed by collapse in the face of challenges presented by more vigorous civilizations. Other predictions have been based on underestimations of American society, estimations based on the assumption that American society is just like European society, or on peculiar conditions in America that seemed to threaten its preeminence.

After World War I, for example, most Europeans—and, for that matter, most Americans—assumed that the old order would quickly reassert itself, with London as the capital of the Anglo-Saxon world and Paris and Berlin vying for control of the Continent. America was seen as too insular to succeed to world dominance. Indeed, the German high command in World War I had made the crucial, and fatal, assumptions that America would not enter the war until it was too late and that the admittedly imposing American economy could not switch to war production quickly enough to affect the outcome.17 But in fact America had become the dominant world economy ...

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