A Review of After America. By Mark Steyn.
A good case can be made that Mark Steyn and Ann Coulter are among our finest political pundits writing today. They certainly would be the wittiest. And perhaps most quotable. Indeed, they join the ranks of such notable quote-mines as Chesterton, Churchill and Orwell.
Both Coulter and Steyn have brand new books out this year. I have reviewed Coulter’s volume here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/08/03/a-review-of-demonic-by-ann-coulter/
Steyn’s thesis, as in so much of his writing, is fairly straightforward: the West in general, and America in particular, are in steep decline, and unless something drastic occurs real soon to reverse this trend, we are all going to end up in the doghouse.
With heaps of documentation along the way, he shows what a precarious position America now finds itself in: “The existential questions for America loom not decades hence, but right now. It is not that we are on a luge ride to oblivion but that the prevailing political realities of the United States do not allow for any meaningful course correction. And, without meaningful course correction, America is doomed.”
The indications are all there. He begins by looking at the teetering American economy and its crippling burden of debt, and how our reckless spending patterns are a recipe for national suicide. Says Steyn, “There’s nothing virtuous about ‘caring’ ‘compassionate’ ‘progressives’ demonstrating how caring and compassionate and progressive they are by spending money yet to be earned by generations yet to be born.”
The consequences of this economic meltdown will be severe not just for America but for the entire world: “Faced with the choice between unsustainable entitlements and maintaining armed forces of global reach, the United States, as Europe did, will abandon military capability and toss the savings into the great sucking maw of social spending.”
The real problem is, America has followed Europe into the Big Government Syndrome. But history tells us this is unsustainable. It simply leads to the loss of liberty, the collapse of the economy, and social disintegration. What we see happening in England and Europe today is a textbook example of this.
America has been following one stupid idea after another from overseas. Take government health care for example, which as Steyn rightly notes, is not really about health care – it’s about government. You see, the “governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-centre political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make small government all but impossible ever again.”
Or take the modern obsession of the Democrats with diversity and rights. By the latter they do not mean negative rights which the US Constitution speaks of: “the right to be left alone by the government in respect of your speech, your guns, etc – but ‘rights’ to stuff, granted by the government, distributed by the government, licensed by the government, rationed by the government, but paid for by you.”
As to diversity, they mean “state ideology of stultifying homogeneity”. Steyn offers plenty of examples of this as well. And don’t get him started on government mismanagement and ineptitude. “In one year (2009), Medicare handed out $98 billion in improper or erroneous payments. A tenth of a trillion! Ha! Rounding error. Look for it in the line-items under ‘Miscellaneous’.”
For 350 pages Steyn details the slow but steady descent of America and the West into oblivion. He is not the first to have done so, and will not be the last. But the clock is ticking, and the question remains, will we heed the warnings before it is too late?
He even paints a picture of what the world will look like after America. I must say, it doesn’t look too good. If he is even half right in his forecasts, life will not really be worth living in a post-American world.
Of course at the end of the day all this decline and decay is not just about economics or politics. Steyn realises that the root problem here is a decline in faith and a decay of values. “Europe’s economic crisis is a mere symptom of its existential crisis. What is life for? What gives it meaning? Post-Christian, post-nationalist, post-modern Europe has no answer to that question, and so it has 30-year-old students and 50-year-old retirees, and wonders why the small band of workers in between them can’t make the math add up.”
Until America and the West regain their Judeo-Christian foundations, the rush to destruction seems all but certain. So what is to be done in the meantime? Steyn only addresses this question toward the end of his volume. The way we get out of our spiritual and moral hole may be too difficult for most commentators to offer much specific help.
But Steyn does offer some general clues: “Americans face a choice; you can rediscover the animating principles of the American idea – limited government, a self-reliant citizenry, and the opportunities to exploit your talents to the fullest – or you can join most of the rest of the western world in terminal decline.”
Statism must be addressed: “We also need a new trust-busting movement to bust the dominant trust of our time – the Big Government monopoly that monopolizes more and more of life.” But he is a bit optimistic, simply because of how the Big Government types always go too far:
“Statists overreach. They did on ‘climate change’ scaremongering, and the result is that it’s over. Hollywood buffoons will continue to lecture us from their mega-mansions that we should toss out our washers and beat our clothes dry on the rocks singing native chants down by the river, but only suckers are listening to them.”
Hopefully Americans will start saying enough is enough, and the move to whittle down Big Brother can begin in earnest. But our elites, bureaucrats and planners will resist this every step of the way. Which explains why Steyn has already had to defend himself against trumped up hate crimes charges in Canada.
They will shut down the sentinels one way or another. But before this book – and others like it – is banned, I suggest you get it now and read it, and then read it again. Let it soak in like good medicine. Then decide which way you want the West to proceed.
15 Replies to “A Review of After America. By Mark Steyn.”
Yes, Bill, I agree. Steyn is but one of a number of voices crying out, seemingly, in an increasing wilderness. Thomas Sowell is another.
From a Christian perspective, the writings of R. J. Rushdoony and others like him from the Chalcedon Foundation, need to be read. In summary they call for evangelicals to continue evangelising because the ultimate solution is redemption, not political action. But, having said that, equally importantly,the evangelical Church must abandon its defeatist, patient and pietistic wait for things to get worse and words and for Jesus to return rapturing us all up out of the mess and into heaven. The evangelical Church must re-establish its influence in all areas of life, not just the spiritual–this includes: government, education, family, science, the economy the arts…in fact, every aspect of life. And the foundation for such earthly reconstruction must be the established Law of God (the Ten Commandments) as the basis for all of these endeavors, not the current humanism which has substituted the sovereignty of man for the sovereignty of God.
The Bible says clearly that God is not mocked, and that whatever we so, we also reap. Such reaping and sowing is inevitable. For example, much of Steyn’s book, which you have ably reviewed, would appear to be focussed on Statism and the misuse of money by the State. Rushdoony, in his massive Institutes of Biblical Law would analyse the problem as a two-fold breaking of the commandment to not steal and the commandment not to be covetous of those who have more. (He would also speak about how we have made the State, in Hegel’s terms, God walking on earth.) Ask yourself how many government initiatives have as their basis the forced redistribution of wealth from the productive members of society to those who have long since become, at the encouragement of the State, addicted to the slavery of welfarism?
Mr Steyn does note one possible solution to national decline and that is Secession. One or more states decide the cost of keeping 50 stars on Old Glory is just not worth it any more. As the Central Govt in DC “SS Titanic” slips under the seas the Secession states become the lifeboats. Presumably a valid passport would get me and my family from North Carolina into the new Republic of Texas.
Russell C Allison, North Carolina, US
Thanks, Steve; and thanks, Bill.
Steve, I would agree with you about the place of the Decalogue in civic life, and the particular example you mention wherein welfarism is but the politics of greed and envy.
However, I disagree with you on two vital points:
1. Reconstructionism a la Rushdoony and his disciples is not the way to go. While he admits to the need for redemption I suspect it is only lip service; the real redemption of society is the wholesale reconstruction according to all the details of OT Law. Despite Rushdoony’s denial he does in fact argue for a reintroduction of the OT theocracy, which is abolished under the Gospel. We are the Christian Diaspora – strangers and exiles under Gentile powers (cf. 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1), and that will remain the case until Christ returns. We have no mandate therefore to “reconstruct” society according to an OT model, or any other one for that matter.
I would add that this whole “reconstruction” idea is an American notion, born of the efforts of Radical Republicans to “reconstruct” the South after the Civil War according to what were believed to be high moral principles. It was nobly intentioned, but it fell foul of human nature, and in particular the prejudices of the Southern whites, and was eventually abandoned. You cannot make a Christian society by Acts of Congress (or Parliament)!
2. The rather snide dismissal of the hope of our Lord’s return (“defeatist”, “pietistic”), in favour of building some sort of “kingdom of God on earth” (you did not put it that way, I admit, but that IS the programme of Reconstructionism), is both offensive and contrary to the NT. The Second Coming is prominent in the NT – mentioned in all but four books of the NT (and three of these due to their sheer brevity), and often at some length. This hope has rightly encouraged God’s people through the centuries as they faced adversity and persecution, and a collapse of civilization, and never more so than right now. “The blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) is NOT some grandiloquent, reconstructed Christian society (however that is conceived) but the appearing in glory of our Saviour Christ.
We live in perilous times: all the great institutions of our Western society are collapsing, and that society is under the same judgment, for essentially the same reasons, as applied to the nations of antiquity. Read Jer.46 – 51 and Ezek. 25 – 32. Gentile nations have no claim on any Divine covenant or Divine blessing, but even Judah was sent into exile.
Our own mandate, however, remains the same: as exiles seek the welfare of the city wherein the LORD has placed us (Jer.29:7), and strengthen those things which remain (Rev.3:2). It is not the programme of Reconstructionism; it is much more modest; but it is at the same time realistic, and Scripturally based, – and it does not turn on denigrating the hope of our Lord’s near return.
BTW, I do not believe in a supposed “rapture” wherein saint will be “zapped off” to heaven and out of harm’s way.
Murray R. Adamthwaite
Thanks Murray for your comments. You would realise it is somewhat ambitious to try to summarise Rushdoony in 500 words or less. As for waiting and/or working for the LORD’s return, I appreciate that you acknowledge that I was not snide in my comments, but then somewhat surprisingly you set up a straw man argument to shoot down what was Rushdoony’s post-millenial position. I would direct you to several passages which you can look up.
First, I believe it was the LORD’s words to Moses declaring that He would visit the sins of a person to three or four generations while blessing covenant keepers for a thousand. If the first length of time is to be understand literally, then so should the second, and not as some sort of exaggerated hyperbole.
Second, examine the most quoted OT passage in the New, namely Psalm 110:1 (11 times I believe). Chew a while on its words, which would seem fairly clearly to indicate that the resurrected and ascended Christ will remain seated at the right hand of God as the reigning LORD UNTIL such a time as all enemies are subdue, THEN Christ will return. May I suggest you read, if you have not already done so, Kenneth Gentry’s cogents expositional book(s) on Revelation from a post-millenial perspective.
Linked fairly closely to Ps 110:1 are those passages such as Acts 3:18-21 which speaks of ‘times of refreshing’ until the restoration of all things.’ I come from the USA, and so I grew up fully dosed on Hal Lindsey-style premillenial Rapture fever. It is at least worth a halfway serious consideration that Christ has come more than once since AD30 (AD70 he certainly came to judge the rebellious nation of Israel!) to judge this or that culture which refuses to, at very least, submit to the Law of God written on their hearts in terms of their own culture, let alone judgment upon supposedly, so-called Christian nations.
And backing up to your first objection, yes it is no doubt true that some modern day reconstructionists put the cart before the horse. But one can hardly blame the wrongdoings of post-civil war northern carpetbagging reconstructionists on Rushdoony! May I respectfully ask you have read completely through Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law (yes, I have, and yes, some of his statements and conclusions are pretty in your face!), or By What Standard?, or or the compendium volume Roots of Reconstruction (which contains ALL of his shorter articles) or any of a number of scholars associated with http://www.chalcedon.com?
The point I would close with is that if you do a careful, overall reading of Rushdoony’s analysis, even if you disagree with his conclusions, you will find what he has says about the US economy and Statism quite remarkably like Steyn’s book.
Blessings, brother! Us more inclined towards building need those more inclined with evangelising! There’s enough world around the place for us all to work together in the unity of the Spirit!
Steyn quotes from Charles Murray in that book. People need to read his article “The Europe Syndrome and the Challenge to American Exceptionalism”. He says that the state has grown so much that it has sapped the life from faith, family, community and vocation;
“Seen in this light, the goal of social policy is to ensure that those institutions are robust and vital. And that’s what’s wrong with the European model. It doesn’t do that. It enfeebles every single one of them.
Put aside all the sophisticated ways of conceptualizing governmental functions and think of it in this simplistic way: Almost anything that government does in social policy can be characterized as taking some of the trouble out of things. Sometimes, taking the trouble out of things is a good idea. Having an effective police force takes some of the trouble out of walking home safely at night, and I’m glad it does.
The problem is this: Every time the government takes some of the trouble out of performing the functions of family, community, vocation, and faith, it also strips those institutions of some of their vitality—it drains some of the life from them. It’s inevitable. Families are not vital because the day-to-day tasks of raising children and being a good spouse are so much fun, but because the family has responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the family does them. Communities are not vital because it’s so much fun to respond to our neighbors’ needs, but because the community has the responsibility for doing important things that won’t get done unless the community does them. Once that imperative has been met—family and community really do have the action—then an elaborate web of social norms, expectations, rewards, and punishments evolves over time that supports families and communities in performing their functions. When the government says it will take some of the trouble out of doing the things that families and communities evolved to do, it inevitably takes some of the action away from families and communities, and the web frays, and eventually disintegrates.”
I note your explanations regarding Rushdoony and his post-millennial eschatology. I would be happy to debate those views, but not here. Bill’s blog should not be made a forum for discussing various schemes of eschatology, unless Bill himself posts an essay on the subject, which as I understand he is usually reluctant to do.
However, let me make two general points:
1. You seem to have the idea that it’s an “excluded middle” proposition: either I adopt the post-millennial views of Rushdoony or his ilk, OR I am lumped together with Hal Lindsey and the Dispensationalists. I hold neither. My position is classic amillennialism: I reject Rapturism, millennial schemes either pre- or post- the Second Coming, and I look for Him to return in my lifetime. That the great event so far has not happened is not due to the failure of unwarranted speculation on my part, but I simply following the Biblical warning of “watchfulness” for His coming which is “near” or “at hand” (Phil.4:5; 1 Peter 4:7; James 5:8; Rev.1:3), and because the time is unknown.
2. Post-millennialism I see as an error as much as Dispensationalism, in whatever form it comes, whether the Reconstructionist version (Rushdoony et al), the revivalist version (Iain Murray), or the Christian Socialist version (Rauschenbush and others). I would concur with the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), Chap. XI arts. 13 & 14, as follows,
“The same Christ will come again to judgment, when the wickedness of the world shall have reached the highest point, and Antichrist corrupted the true religion. He will destroy Antichrist and judge the living and the dead…
“We reject all who deny the real resurrection… We also reject the Jewish dream of a millennium, or golden age on earth, before the last judgment.”
In other words, I follow the historic faith of the Church as regards the Second Coming and related matters, which millennialism in all its forms corrupts.
As to Rushdoony’s “Institutes of Biblical Law” I have neither the time nor the patience to plough through it all. I have read some of his material with some profit, but his scheme on the whole, as I have read it in shorter works and seen commentaries – often from disciples – I see as erroneous and even heretical. I could say more, but I will leave it at that.
One footnote: you missed my point regarding the Reconstruction period. Of course it it nonsense to blame Rushdoony for its failure, but that was not my point. It was (1) to highlight the fact that imposition of high Christian morals, or OT Law for that matter, on a populace otherwise minded is bound to end in disaster, and (2) the whole idea of “Reconstruction” according to some model or other is an idea born and bred in America, which may or may not be applicable elsewhere.
Murray R. Adamthwaite
Re: Russ in North Carolina.
The great vision of the American Revolution, of God-fearing individuals, sustaining themselves and their families by hard work, helping out their neighbours when needed, owing not a penny to anyone, without the interference of government, was surely not only a climactic event (ironically) of the general English Revolution that had fulminated over a few hundred years previous, but was a necessary outcome of and demanded by, the ideals of the Reformation: if a man stands alone before God at judgment then he must have freedom of belief, conscience, speech and worship and a political framework that encourages the development of the individual, free of government coercion or corporate conformity. The constitutional arrangements of the other English speaking countries were subsequently modelled on the American prototype.
However, as soon as the American Republic was born, it had enemies and there were as many within as without. The centralists and corporatists in Washington and the large industrial cities of the North Eastern seaboard, raised their standard at the turn of the 19th century and have continued their work until this very day, clawing away at individual liberty and local autonomy (and a reliance on God alone). The same has occurred here in Australia. The federal government uses its income tax monopoly, funding resources and foreign affairs responsibilities to bully, trick and manipulate the states into submitting to its agenda. Uniform gun laws, national school curriculum, climate change alarmism, overruling state laws on homosexual behaviour, etc., etc., have all been accumulating since WWII – I even heard a federal Senator the other day calling for tougher laws on dog control!!!! It is no coincidence that this was the same Senator who said that a world parliament was desirable and inevitable. Central conformity must be implemented as a precursor to supranational conformity.
Secession is indeed a tantalising prospect Russ, we have a resurgence of interest here in the states of Western Australia and Queensland but I wouldn’t hold out too much hope for it. After all, the question of the succession of “sovereign states” was decided a long time back and not by learned judges in a supreme court but by Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan. But I don’t have to tell a Carolinian this.
This is a an interesting conversation. I remember attending Rushdoony’s talks in Sydney over 25 years ago and being very impressed. There is much to be said FOR Reconstructionism. However, ultimately I abandoned it for these reasons:
1. it is based on an over-idealized view of past Christian societies. Christians have not generally been very good at exercising absolute political power, e.g. the English Commonwealth (though I agree that some characterisations of these past societies has been overly negative and biased; see the recent book “Defending Constantine”).
2. it is based on a faulty application of the OT, as someone has already pointed out.
3. it tends to prioritize political action over evangelism, which several people have shown is unrealistic and unbiblical.
4. it advocates a realm where Christian values are forced on everyone, which may be justifiable to some extent but negates evangelism and grace.
Reconstructionism needs to be differentiated from biblical postmillennialism which expects the world to be successfully evangelized, not the west successfully reconstructed. The former is to some degree happening now before our eyes; the latter is a lost cause because God isn’t in it.
According to the NT (e.g. Acts 1:8), Jesus’ rule from God’s right hand (Ps.110) is being fulfilled by the outpoured Holy Spirit through faithful witness (sometimes involving literal martyrdom). The USA is only one among all the nations that are targets of God’s grace and its future prospects are (if I may say so respectfully) irrelevant to the future of God’s kingdom. Just as Christianity survived the fall of Rome, it will survive the fall of America if necessary.
For most of history the West has been caught up in nonsense generally antithetical to the sort of society that we would consider broadly in line with Judeo-Christian values. Western liberal democracy, as we know it and experience it, is a relatively new phenomenon. Really, the ‘foundations’ you’re talking about is the sort of society found somewhere in the last 200 or so years.
You can’t force people to truly believe. You can force them to make verbal and written affirmations of belief or submission; you can force them to undertake certain ceremonies and rituals and to go hither and thither but you can’t force the turn of a man’s heart by legislation or at the point of a gun. The human soul is the last bastion of freedom.
We are a bit like a defending army closing down each outlying redoubt and palisade in turn until the enemy is at the gates and walls of the city. We then retreat to the citadel for a last stand, indeed where we may very well die. But this is not a rout; we are not a rabble. This is a fighting withdrawal just as the boys did across the Owen Stanleys in 1942 all the way to Imita Ridge. You keep engaged with the enemy; you make them pay dearly for every yard of ground they advance. You loose comrades along the way but those that are left for the final showdown are emboldened, experienced, wiser by far and ready to give all. As to those people watching from the sidelines, some will go over to the enemy but some will put in with the defenders that have won them over not just with fine words but with sacrificial deeds.
I tend to agree with Jon Newton but if the human heart is the last bastion of freedom, then we need to mount a FIGHTING withdrawal in defence of it. I think we’re now pretty close to the citadel. Many of the outer defences have been given up without much of a fight (certainly not a co-ordinated fight). There are some areas of political life that I believe need a ferocious defence:
* the sanctity of human life – continue the fight against abortion – prepare for the fight against euthanasia – speak out against the growing blurring of distinction between humans and all the other elements of the Creation
* the sanctity of marriage and the human family – fight against homosexual “marriage” – fight against creeping atheist/green/multicultural indoctrination in public schools
* freedom of conscience, belief, speech and association – the religious defamation laws that have arrived in Victoria and are being pushed by the UN are an example of the enemy’s offensive on this front
* fight against cultural relativism – especially the enemy’s dark ops squad, Sharia Law.
All that has been said of America could be said of Australia. If we do not see a reversing of the down hill race that is currently in full tilt, then the so-called “Lucky Country” will disappear into the slough of despond.
Bill, the notion of end points has a strong bearing on the route to be taken to arrive at those end points. If we are to end with a whimper, not a bang, as the amillennialists would have it, then our voice will be a whisper in the wilderness. If we are not to be around at the end, as the premillennialists would have it, then being involved in the journey is totally irrelevent. If the end is an explosion for the glory of God, then we have a loud drum to beat as we move towards that goal.
Could you please post a comment that allows us to hammer out the details of these various end point scenarios, please?
Lance A Box
Contrary to what one commentator said about a supposed ‘reluctance’ on my part to discuss eschatology, I have done it quite often on this site. And I also think it is clearly a secondary issue. If someone wants to deny the deity of Christ they will have a fight on their hands, as that is a key doctrine which must be maintained. But as to various eschatological views, I will not go to the wall over them, as there is legitimate room to move here for Christians.
I write about some of the option here for example:
And of course this post is about Steyn’s important new book, not theonomy or eschatology. So it is always helpful to stay on topic here!
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
Thanks Bill. I read your summaries, and final comments, and agree with those who say that you are fair in what you say. Thank you for identifying your position, which is the position of many Post-millennialists. I will add comments to the previous posts, if that is allowable.
Lance A Box
Yes by all means Lance.
Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
I just finished Mark’s fine book, and even though it was a pleasure to read, it brought to more realization that we are truly doomed. I have been studying the Constitution and the Federalist papers, and almost 99% of what happens in DC is unconstitutional. We have got so far away from what I believe was a brilliant, God inspired document that it will take a massive awakening to start back on the path to freedom. We certainly are far down the path to serfdom.
The education system and the culture have been compromised by the socialist elements in this country, and ordinary citizens have taken a hike to make a living and the inmates have taken over. Next years’ election can only slightly halt the progress of the Marxists, but until average Americans realize their future is at stake (and that of the children) I can see no future for America as a free country.
Our only hope (and it is slim to none) is electing representatives that believe in the Constitution and will do what it takes to restore our Republic. We are much closer to a mob democracy or oligarchy at this point. Few will have the conjones to pledge their lives and fortunes to take back our Republic. (and I believe the lives would be at stake.)
Nancy Murdoch, US