Summary: There is a desire in the hearts of many Americans for a crisis, a catharsis. A big bang or fire that would purify America, razing the corrupt structures, allowing construction of a new America on the ruins. This could have potentially serious effects.
I see a strong if hidden current of nihilism flowing in American society today. I see it in some of the writings of the Tea Party, and in fringe financial websites like Zero Hedge.
While not textbook nihilism, it is a belief that the current structures of society are corrupt and deserve to be swept away. Belief that a crisis, even a collapse, would provide a catharsis, purging society back to health. The roots of this in Christian eschatology (see Wikipedia) are obvious, although a distortion (perhaps even antithetical) of traditional Christian theology.
It is a commonplace attitude arising before wars, especially wars following long periods of peace. People raised in stable times sometimes yearn for excitement, ignorant of the consequences of crisis. These people can become a hazard to society when they regard as despicable the normal mechanisms maintaining social stability: expert opinion (they know!), recognition of complexity and uncertainty (they know!), negotiation, compromise, slow reform — even thought and reflection.
The price to society of their education can be high. As I suspect we will soon learn, unless America has more luck than we deserve.
Here are two examples of responsible people inciting panic. Are these people lunatics? Machiavellian planners? Christians with a sublimated yearning for a secular apoclaypse? Secure suburbanites unaware of the fragile walls separating civilization from barbarism? Perhaps they want Republican power, and consider damage to the US economy as a trivial side-effect. We can only guess, but the answer does not matter. Only their actions matter.
(1) A commonplace opinion on the right-wing fringes of the financial industry:
“the national debt should be defaulted on for several reasons.”
– Investment guru Doug Casey (source here)
(2) A more serious example
“Default Now, or Suffer a More Expensive Crisis Later“, Representative Ron Paul (R-TX), op-ed at Bloomberg News, 22 July 2011 — Excerpt:
The national debt now stands at just over $14 trillion, while net total liabilities are estimated at over $200 trillion. The government is insolvent, as there is no way that this massive sum of liabilities can ever be paid off. Successive Congresses and administrations have shown absolutely no restraint when it comes to the budget process, and the idea that either of the two parties is serious about getting our fiscal house in order is laughable.
… Unless major changes are made today, the U.S. will default on its debt sooner or later, and it is certainly preferable that it be sooner rather than later.
If the government defaults on its debt now, the consequences undoubtedly will be painful in the short term. The loss of its AAA rating will raise the cost of issuing new debt, but this is not altogether a bad thing. Higher borrowing costs will ensure that the government cannot continue the same old spending policies. Budgets will have to be brought into balance (as the cost of servicing debt will be so expensive as to preclude future debt financing of government operations), so hopefully, in the long term, the government will return to sound financial footing.
… We have a choice: default now and take our medicine, or put it off as long as possible, when the effects will be much worse.
A few interesting points about this extraordinary statement.
(a) He’s inciting panic by exaggeration, for political purposes. It’s an effective technique to lead sheep.
Most of that $200 trillion total liabilities represents future expenditures for health care, which results mostly from our dysfunctional health care system. The primary obstacle to reform is the Republican Party. Adoption of the mixed public-private systems used in Europe would eliminate most of that — with NO effect on health care outcomes. Modest tax increases would close the remaining gap. US taxes/GDP are far below the post-WWII average (when we had faster growth), and below that of most of our peers.
(b) Representative Paul of the Tea Party appears to have forgotten section four of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution:
The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.
As has been evident for many years, the Constitution no longer lives in the hearts of our leaders. It functions as a loosely followed procedural guide, coordinating the power struggles of our elites. Nothing more. Beyond that it retains a ceremonial role for the public, and a fetish object object for some like the Tea Party (words which they repeat but no longer hear or feel).
For more information about the American spirit, the American mind
For a full listing see the FM Reference Page American – how can we reform it (section 2)
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
- Diagnosing the eagle, chapter IV – Alienation, 13 January 2008
- A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — Michael Jackson
- Know thyself, America, 2 March 2010
- It’s a national emergency, so an opportunity to watch much of America get hysterical, 27 May 2010
- Matt Taibbi helps us see ourselves, and the leaders we elect to run America, 29 May 2010
- Pain and misery builds discipline!, 12 October 2010
This post originally appeared at Fabius Maximus and is reproduced here with permission.