Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline
with Morris Berman
- Thursday, March 22
- 7 PM
Why America Failed—third and most engaging volume of Morris Berman's trilogy on the decline of the American empire—shows how, from its birth as a nation of "hustlers" to its collapse as an empire, the tools of the country's expansion proved to be the instruments of its demise. Berman will read from this newest book and discuss the perils of empire.
During the final century of the Roman Empire, it was common for emperors to deny that their civilization was in decline. Only with the perspective of history can we see that the emperors were wrong, that the empire was failing, and that the Roman people were unwilling or unable to change their way of life before it was too late. The same, says Morris Berman, is true of twenty-first century America. The nation and its empire are in decline and nothing can be done to reverse their course. How did this come to be?
In Why America Failed, Berman examines the development of American culture from the earliest colonies to the present, shows that the seeds of the nation's "hustler" culture were sown from the very beginning, and reveals how the very tools that enabled the country's expansion have become the instruments of its demise.
At the center of Berman's argument is his assertion that hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on others have been powerful forces in American culture since the Pilgrims landed. He shows that even before the American Revolution, naked self-interest had replaced the common good as the primary social value in the colonies and that the creative power and destructive force of this idea gained irresistible momentum in the decades following the ratification of the Constitution. As invention proliferated and industry expanded, railroads, steamships, and telegraph wires quickened the frenetic pace of progress--or, as Berman calls it, the illusion of progress. An explosion of manufacturing whetted the nation's ravenous appetite for goods of all kinds and gave the hustling life its purpose--to acquire as many objects as possible prior to death
The reign of Wall Street and the 2008 financial meltdown are certainly the most visible examples today of the negative consequences of the pursuit of affluence. Berman, however, sees the manipulations of Goldman Sachs and others not as some kind of aberration, but as the logical endpoint of the hustler culture. The fact that Goldman and its ilk continue to thrive in the wake of the disaster they wrought simply proves that it is already too late: America is incapable of changing direction.
Many readers will take exception to much of Why America Failed--beginning, perhaps, with its title. But many more will read this provocative and insightful book and join Berman in making a long, hard reassessment of the nation, its goals, and its future.
Added to the calendar on Saturday Mar 10th, 2012 1:18 PM