By CONRAD BLACK, Special to the Sun | April 14, 2012
Prominent public intellectuals in the United States are becoming increasingly vocal in their protestations that their country is not in decline. Robert Kagan militates in his latest book that the United States is still by far the most powerful country in the world, as it has been since the latter days of the Second World War. Walter Russell Mead wrote in The Wall Street Journal last week that the problem is not one of American decline, but the decline of its principal allies, Europe and Japan; while countries that have not historically been close allies such as China, India, Turkey and Brazil, are making swift economic, and therefore, political progress.
Both Messrs. Kagan and Mead are putting forth reasonable arguments — unlike Barack Obama’s blustery assertion in his State of the Union message that declinists “don’t know what they are talking about.” But while Messrs. Kagan and Mead are telling the truth, they are not telling the whole truth.
In 1945, the United States accounted for half the world’s entire economic product, as all other major industrial countries, except to some extent Britain, had been severely damaged by the war. The United States had a nuclear monopoly, was the founder of the United Nations (in which great hopes then reposed), and had led the world to victory over Nazism and Japanese imperialism. It was the only Great Power that in the 1930s had been led by a government that, in the aftermath of
Decline from that pinnacle was inevitable. But it did not happen at once. Indeed, the overwhelming and relatively bloodless victory in the Cold War, the fruition of the brilliant American strategy of containment, left the United States as the only seriously Great Power in the world, a condition unique in the history of the nation-state, starting in the Middle Ages. As a result, there was, 20 years ago, a good deal of frothy (and, as it turns out, grossly premature) intellectual blather about the end of history and the political culmination of the world in democratic capitalism.