[This review was published in the Winter 2011 issue of The Journal of Social, Political and Economic Studies, pp. 510-523]

 

Book Review


Suicide of a Superpower

Patrick J. Buchanan

Thomas Dunne Books, 2011

 

          Suicide of a Superpower is Patrick Buchanan’s eleventh book,[1] and is best seen as the capstone of all those in which he has for so long been pondering the social, political and economic dimensions of what he rightly sees as the decline and impending death of the West.  Although in this book he focuses on the United States, what he has to say applies with equal force, as he makes clear, to the rest of Euro-American civilization.  He points out, for example, that during the past century “the great European powers fought two great wars.  All lost their empires.  All saw their armies and navies melt away.  All lost their Christian faith.  All saw their birth rates plummet.  All have seen their populations begin to age and shrink. All are undergoing invasions from formerly subject peoples coming to the mother country to dispossess their grandchildren.  All of their welfare states face retrenchment even as they face tribal decline and death.”  The American experience is not entirely parallel, of course, to that of the European powers, with their internecine slaughters and loss of empire, but the trajectory is much the same.

          Buchanan is unique as a thinker and writer.  He is at once profound and vastly informative; easily readable without “journalistic” superficiality; and utterly lacking in the affectations of learning.  If he would wrap his profundity in the mysteries of obscurantism and if he were a darling of the establishment, he would no doubt earn the world’s acclaim as one of its preeminent philosophers.  And if only he had not so long spoken so openly and fearlessly, he might well have been the successful political leader he once aspired to be.

          Whether his books are congenial and persuasive to a reader will, above all, depend upon how the reader feels about a central question: “Do I really care about whether the United States and, more generally western civilization, survive, or am I indifferent to the question (or even celebrate their demise)?”  Predominantly, this is a question for the heart rather than for the mind, asking where the reader’s loyalties and deepest affinities lie.  There was a time when most Americans and Europeans would have thought the question entirely unnecessary, but that day has long since passed. 

          Suicide of a Superpower discusses many aspects of the decline.  After we have reviewed several of them, we will examine a few subjects that, though not necessarily more important, invite additional discussion.

          “The Death of Christian America.”  Although Buchanan observes that “Christianity is dying in Europe,” his attention is primarily upon the United States, where he sees an overall diminution of faith, Protestants becoming a minority, and Catholicism “well on its way to becoming a Third World religion” centered in Latin America and Africa.  He sees that when President Obama observes that “we are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers,” the President has turned sharply from the view expressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1892 that “this is a Christian nation.”  The result is that “the age of Obama marks the advent of post-Christian America.”   As we will see, the change has been a long time in coming; President Obama has simply made it explicit.

As with most everything he discusses, Buchanan provides much information.  Major changes are occurring within American Protestantism, where various of its denominations (such as the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches) are undergoing an accelerated fragmentation.  What is emerging as “the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity” is “a generic form of evangelicalism.”  The situation for the Catholic Church in the United States is now a “disaster,” just a few short years after it experienced “America’s Catholic moment” in the 1950s.  The dilution of faith is palpable, and appears in a variety of ways: “Catholic colleges and universities remain Catholic in name only”; attendance at mass has fallen off to a third; “the numbers of nuns, priests, and seminarians have fallen dramatically”; and “Catholic politicians openly support abortion on demand.”   

What has caused this?  Buchanan looks back several centuries to the Reformation, which initiated the fragmentation.  He sees a more recent cause in “what happened to America” as it went through “the cultural revolution that altered the most basic beliefs of men and women,” effecting “what Nietzsche called a ‘transvaluation of all values.’”  He points out that “what was immoral and scandalous in 1960 – promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality – is normal now.”  No doubt this gave a major impetus to the society’s transition, and its role deserves the emphasis Buchanan gives it, but it is worth remembering that the “cultural revolution” was largely caused by a resurgence of the world Left with renewed vitality after World War II.  The Left has a long history, going back to the early nineteenth century (and earlier than that, if we consider the enormous influence of Rousseau), and has been motivated primarily by an alienated modern “intelligentsia’s” seeking of an alliance with all unassimilated or disaffected groups, forming ideologies hostile to the main society, its outlook and its norms.  It was this that underlay the “cultural revolution.” [Gramsci and the Frankfurt School, to whom the revolution is often ascribed, were, of course, a major guiding force bringing it to culmination.]

Even this would not be a full explanation of the decline of religion in Europe and America.  There has been a centuries-long movement into science and secularism, both of which are profoundly at odds with a supernatural religious worldview.  Religious Americans speak of “secular humanism” with disdain, and this makes it easy to forget that there are a great many people, especially among those with scientific educations, who are deeply committed to what they themselves praise as “secular humanism.”   The clash between the secular and the supernatural is one of the fundamental schisms of our era, which tells us that the movement away from religious faith comes from a very deep source, indeed.  (The sex-abuse scandal has, of course, contributed immensely to the Catholic Church’s rapid decline in the United States, but from what we have just said we see that there have been major additional forces at work.)

“The death of white America.”  The fact that Buchanan has a chapter on the impending eclipse of whites is itself of major significance.  It means that he is bringing into America’s national consciousness something that until now has been consigned to a place beyond the boundaries of acceptable discussion.  In the Fall 2011 issue of this Journal, we reviewed Jared Taylor’s book White Identity, and noted that it was broaching a subject that has been taboo in the United States.  Although Taylor has long been ostracized to keep him out of America’s ideologically circumscribed area of “free speech,” Buchanan’s writings are issued by major publishing houses and are widely circulated (which is not to deny that even he is consigned to something close to the margin, even though not beyond it).  It isn’t surprising that Buchanan doesn’t mention Taylor or his book, since he is being remarkably bold just to raise the subject.  By mentioning whites and their interests, both Taylor and Buchanan have changed the parameters of America’s public discourse.  This cracking of the taboo marks a potential intellectual upheaval of no small significance.

Again, there are various dimensions to what Buchanan is discussing.  Important among them are the demographic changes occurring in the United States, and indeed throughout the world.  Buchanan tells us that with a birth rate significantly less than that needed for replacement, whites constitute a declining and aging population.  The same thing is happening in Europe, in Russia, in Israel (and with American Jews), and even in non-white populations such as in Japan and South Korea.  At the same time, immigration from the Third World has since World War II been coming in to swamp Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia (since their elites have prevented anything effectual to secure their borders), portending rapid demographic and social changes that will radically change the nature of them all.  It is little wonder that one anti-white activist whom Buchanan quotes is able to write “your time is limited” in a column about the tea party movement bearing the title “The Last Gasp of Aging White Power.”

Politically, these population trends point to the disappearance, or at least permanent minority status, of the Republican Party.  It is the Democrats, which Buchanan describes as “the party of government,” that has long centered itself on the erstwhile ethnic minorities, offering a program of “spend and elect.”  In return, a large percentage of minority voters cast their ballots for the Democrats.  The Republicans have sought the favor of minorities in a great many ways, but that hasn’t put them anywhere near on a par with Democrats in the eyes of minority voters.  Buchanan, in fact, attributes much of its impending plight to the Republican Party itself: “Through its support of mass immigration, its paralysis in preventing twelve to twenty million illegal aliens from entering and staying in this country, and its failure to address the ‘anchor baby’ issue [the prevailing rule that children born in the United States to non-citizens, even to parents who are in the country illegally, automatically become American citizens], the Republican Party has birthed a new electorate that will send the party the way of the Whigs” [i.e., into oblivion].  

Nor are the demographics all there is to it.  Much of the decline of whites comes from ideology, from whites’ own self-abnegation.  Buchanan refers to “ethnomasochism,” which he defines as “the taking of pleasure in the dispossession of one’s own ethnic group” and which he calls “a disease of the heart.”  Buchanan doesn’t call it this, but we might think of it as a form of “Stockholm syndrome,” a term that came into currency after a group of hostages developed attitudes akin to those of the hostage takers.  Most educated American whites have over time allowed themselves to be existentially defined by the perspective of the American Left, which essentially despises them and has developed its own historical narrative.  They have, in effect, internalized the worldview of their teachers, from elementary school through college.  Only those who have somehow been spurred to rebel against that orthodoxy have a different mindset. 

It is this white masochism that has posed no effective opposition to, and indeed has often promoted, the vast system of racial and gender preferences that Buchanan describes.  These preferences are even granted to millions to whom the Left’s narrative of “victimology” has no application: “As most immigrants are people of color,” Buchanan says, “they and their children quickly qualify for racial and ethnic preferences in hiring, promotions, and admissions.”  The result is that “white males, a shrinking third of the nation, [are left] to bear almost the entire burden of reverse discrimination.”

Less and less a “melting pot,” the United States is the site of a growing tribalism.  Buchanan quotes the Los Angeles sheriff: “Latino gang members shoot blacks not because they are members of a rival gang but because they are black.  Likewise, black gang members shoot Latinos because they are brown.”  Gangs have multiplied in number even on Indian reservations: “The Navajo Nation has seen a tripling of gangs from 76 to 225 in twelve years.”  There are, Buchanan reports, 5000 young men in 39 gangs on the Oglala Sioux reservation at Pine Ridge in South Dakota.

An inappropriate elite.  Buchanan refers variously to “our political class,” “our political and corporate elite,” “the political and financial elite,” “the U.S. establishment,” “our intellectual, cultural, and political elites,” “the international elite,” and to “judges, bureaucrats, professors, and those who control the content of our culture.”  These references reflect the breadth of the elite that, in effect, constitutes the de facto political and cultural governing body in American society.   The elite acts through the forms of representative democracy, but it is the outlook of that elite that prevails on virtually all things, even when strong majorities of the general population hold contrary opinions, often quite passionately (but impotently) expressed. 

Buchanan does not make a systematic analysis of the elite as such.  We know, of course, how much the American government and both major political parties respond to lobbies of various kinds, representing big money, transnational corporations, ethnic groups, and even the Likudist faction in Israel now widely known, in the language of scholars Walt and Mearsheimer, as “the Israel Lobby” (which can be ignored only at the cost of a major omission).  In tandem with this is the intellectual-cultural underlay that prevails in the minds of the millions who, as we mentioned above, have internalized the ethos that they absorbed in their schooling.  It is here that the breadth is most in evidence.  But it is worth noting, in a somewhat narrower vein, that the ethos is in command of the major institutions.  In the arts, for example, there are thousands of excellent artists whose “conventional,” albeit splendid, work appears in such outlets as Art of the West, but a visit to any of the major art galleries in the United States shows how much the “commanding heights” of the official arts community are in the hands of quite a different breed, the avant garde “sophisticates.”   The elite’s orthodoxy has been in control of the major institutions – in the arts, on federal commissions, and elsewhere – even when there has been a Republican administration, such as that of President Reagan, in the White House.

Buchanan brings into focus several aspects of the elite’s thinking.  In the context of the U.S. trade deficits, which are so large that they “represent the single greatest wealth transfer in history,” he speaks of “the feckless indifference of our political class.”  He points out that “the U.S. establishment appears unconcerned about American sovereignty,” and that “globalism has become [its] civil religion.”  Even though American prosperity and growing industrial strength through virtually all of American history prior to the 1930s was based on protecting American enterprise within a vast internally-competitive domestic market, the elite, in an odd but convenient alliance with much libertarian thought, has wholeheartedly accepted “free trade” ideology.  Buchanan writes that “we have spurned the economic patriotism of Hamilton, Jackson, Clay, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Coolidge to embrace free trade,” which in the context of a “flat world” has resulted in the enormous trade deficits, outsourcing, off-shoring, deindustrialization, and displacement of millions of workers.  

He points, too, to several other familiar features of the contemporary orthodoxy.   “An article of faith of our ruling class is now ‘In our diversity is our strength.’”  The diversity premise leads, Buchanan says, to some harsh realities, as shown by a study by Ron Unz, a Jewish Harvard graduate.  In America’s elite universities (such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley and Stanford), “nearly 20 percent of the student body was Asian, and 25 to 33 percent was Jewish.”  At Harvard, “what emerged was a student body where white Christians, then 70 percent of the U.S. population, were down to 25 percent of [the] enrollment.”  Considering the pivotal role America’s “elite universities” play in fashioning tomorrow’s leadership, Buchanan pulls no punches when he says that “the picture that emerged [from Unz’s study] was of an Ivy League elite salving its social conscience by cheating white Christians out of first-class tickets into society’s top tier, and giving them instead to Harvard’s preferred minorities.”  As with so much in the establishment’s ideology, the diversity fixation is replete with double standards: “These elites will fight to ensure that a mosque is built at Ground Zero with the same ferocity as they will to ensure that no Nativity scene ever appears on the National Mall.”

Buchanan recognizes that a peculiar form of environmentalism that goes well beyond commonsense concerns, an ideological form of environmentalism that Americans have seen since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, has also become part of the new religion.  We almost wrote “the new secular religion,” but the word “secular” doesn’t fully fit, since the ideological expression of environmentalism carries with it certain mystical qualities, as we see in references to “Gaia” and “Mother Earth.”  A militantly anti-capitalist thrust was evident in the first Earth Day Handbook, and the mystical aspects were strong in Theodore Roszak’s Where the Wasteland Ends.

A dangerous consensus: imperialism, hard and soft.  With the exception of some articulate elements on both the left and right, a broad consensus has existed in favor of a “benign imperial” view of America’s place in the world.  (Its benign nature is more perceived by Americans than by many of the peoples of the world.)  Neo-liberalism and neo-conservatism, though somewhat different in the methods they would employ, are joined by a large portion of the American public in thinking that America’s rightful place is as social worker, reformer and policeman to the world.  Hardly a sparrow falls whose demise or suffering does not tug at the heart strings of Americans.  It is a frame of mind that is sentimentally unaware of the vast complexities of the world and its peoples – and of the dangers and presumptuousness of universal intervention.

Buchanan, as he does on so much, stands outside the consensus.  He quotes an insightful passage by Garet Garrett: “The Roman Empire never doubted that it was the defender of civilization.  Its grand intentions were peace, law and order.  The Spanish Empire added salvation.   The British Empire added the noble myth of the white man’s burden.  We have added freedom and democracy… This is the language of empire.”

The result, Buchanan says, has been a world-wide overextension.  The U.S. Department of Defense reported in 2009 that there were “716 U.S. military bases on foreign soil in thirty-eight countries.”  One expert, though, says this figure is too low, since an inclusion of “espionage bases… and miscellaneous facilities in places considered too sensitive to discuss” would bring the number to 1,000.  Buchanan points out that the United States is still defending South Korea nearly two-thirds of a century after the war with North Korea, even though South Korea has a vastly larger population and economy than the North.  The same is true of Japan, which is entirely capable of its own defense and has no apparent enemy.  And the long-standing commitment to Taiwan continues even though Taiwan does billions of dollars of business annually with mainland China. 

These are on-going involvements, all of them potential tripwires for America’s going to war; but the most obvious activity has been in Iraq and Afghanistan and indeed throughout much of the Islamic swath.[2]  Buchanan takes issue with the George W. Bush argument that the “war on terror” is caused by radical Islam’s “hatred of American freedom.”  Although he doesn’t mention Michael Scheuer, the one-time head of the C.I.A.’s Bin Laden Unit who has written prolifically on the subject, Buchanan agrees with Scheuer’s insight[3] that “they are over here because we are over there.”  “They came to kill us in our country,” Buchanan says, “because we will not get out of their countries.”   

The budget deficit, national debt and trade deficit.  Buchanan cites a Washington Post editorial that said “it’s time to… start panicking about the [U.S. national] debt.”  He tells readers that “the true national debt… is well over $14 trillion.  But even that figure does not reflect the ‘structural deficit’ the nation faces from legislated commitments to Social Security, Medicare, and government and military pensions.”  Further, the annual budget deficit is so high that “to close a deficit of 10 percent of GDP, major cuts in federal spending and tax hikes seem unavoidable.”  (We should notice that his inclusion of tax increases puts him at odds with the “no new taxes” pledge taken by so many Republican politicians.)  As to the trade deficit, Buchanan quotes Warren Buffet, who said “we are selling the nation out from under us.”  Encouraging imports while continuing its long-standing condonation of other countries’ restrictions on U.S. exports, the United States has gone from being a creditor nation to one with a massive foreign debt.  Buchanan predicts that “the probability is that the march of deficits continues until the world realizes America will never repay her debts in dollars of the same value as the ones she bestowed.  Then the crisis will come.” 

Deindustrialization: the hollowing-out of the American economy.  The decline of American industry, with decades of imports flooding the market and much production moved off-shore, is well known, as is the stagnation of incomes and growing polarization both of incomes and of wealth.  “Be it shoes, clothes, cars, furniture, radios, TVs, appliances, bicycles, toys, cameras, computers, we buy from abroad what we used to make here.”  Buchanan speaks of “a median wage and family income that have been stagnant for a decade” [actually, many sources tell us that it has been since the early 1970s, with family incomes boosted only by both spouses working].  He quotes Senator Fritz Hollings to the effect that even “the defense industry has been off-shored.  We had to wait months to get flat panel displays from Japan before we launched Desert Storm.  Boeing can’t build a fighter plane except for the parts from India.”  China has dozens of nuclear power plants under way, Buchanan says, while “America has not built a nuclear power plant in thirty years.”  While nuclear power has been stalled, the current administration has “declared war on fossil fuels.”

Buchanan favors “tax and trade policies” that will lead to a “reindustrialization of America.”  Realizing that the Value Added Tax (VAT) imposed on imports and rebated on exports by virtually all countries, but not by the United States, puts American trade at an immense disadvantage, he recommends that “we impose tariffs on all imports and use every dollar of tariff revenue to reduce taxes on U.S. producers.” 

The “Great Recession.”  Asking “who is to blame” for the current economic debacle, Buchanan lays it at the door of “the political and financial elite of a generation” which “revealed itself to be unfit to lead a great nation.”  He says “we have a system failure rooted in a societal failure.  For behind the disaster lay greed, stupidity, and incompetence on a colossal scale.”  He names banks, politicians, the home mortgage agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Wall Street bankers, and the rating agencies.  An important failure (although just one of many) lay in a prevailing ideology that “ignored the real causes of racial disparity in home ownership” and that led to “pressuring local banks to make mortgages to home-buyers who could not qualify under standards set from decades of experience.”

Widespread human failure.  The number of dependents among the American people is staggering.   What has happened is that, as Buchanan says, “we have accepted the existence of a permanent underclass of scores of millions who cannot cope and must be carried by society.”  [In this context, it is worth noting the unwillingness of a great many businesses to set up shop in a given city or state, and even to refrain from moving out of the country, unless they are given subsidies, forgivable loans and/or tax favors for coming or staying.  The mentality of dependence has become pervasive.]

This reviewer is a retired college professor.  He remembers how much more motivated his foreign students were to learn than were a large segment of his American students, a segment that weighed down most classes with a surly resentment of any expectation placed upon them.  The human failures evident in America’s current plight are, accordingly, no surprise to him.  They are failures that appear in many guises.  One of these is the “family disintegration” of which Buchanan speaks.  “Forty-one percent of America’s children are born out of wedlock.  Among black Americans it is 71 percent.  Food stamps feed children abandoned by their fathers.” 

 

We have recounted here many of the matters Buchanan explores.  Before this review is concluded, it remains only to discuss a variety of points that deserve mention:

          1.  Many readers will understand Suicide of a Superpower as describing a catastrophe.  Those readers will do well to be aware that there are others who will read this catalog of societal implosion with delight.  Among those others are the writers of the sizeable Latino activist literature that excoriates the United States.[4]  Most Americans don’t read that literature and don’t know it exists.  Although we point to those activists, we know they are merely representative of a much larger alienated ideology. 

          2.  One of the social phenomena we should notice today is the profound lack of confidence the American people at large feel toward virtually all leaders and institutions.  What is not generally realized is that that is a very dangerous situation (for those who value the society).  This reviewer remembers the mental funk that prevailed during the late 1960s and early 1970s, a funk that deprived most people of any moral or intellectual impulse to stand up to the Abbie Hoffmans and Jerry Rubins of the day.  When a society loses its “legitimacy,” it stands naked before its enemies.

          3.  Buchanan asks what is to be done.  It isn’t his fault that he has no actual answer.  He concludes the book by saying what will happen “if we do not act now.”  So he holds the door open to its not being too late.  But what is required for “acting now” is an intellectual and social renaissance of incredible proportions.  From whence is that renaissance to come?  Certainly, people can effect one, if they move themselves to do so.  That is always the case.  Reading  this book by Buchanan would be a start.  But the “establishment,” some of whose members read serious books, probably won’t; and most of the American public, even people who are passionate and who forward voluminous materials to their friends over the Internet, seldom pick up a book of non-fiction on serious social issues.  Shakespeare had it right when he had Cassius say:

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

 

Dwight D. Murphey



[1]   Seven of these books have been reviewed in this Journal.  To read and perhaps download them (without charge), go to www.dwightmurphey-collectedwritings.info  See items BR (i.e., book review) 48, 54, 68, 89, 101 and 114; also, A (i.e., article) 98.

[2]   Buchanan recites how “Bush I intervened in Panama, attacked Iraq, liberated Kuwait, planted U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, and intervened in Somalia… Clinton invaded Haiti, intervened in Bosnia, bombed Serbia for seventy-eight days, and sent U.S. troops to effect a secession of her cradle province of Kosovo… George W. Bush invaded Afghanistan, declared Iran, Iraq, and North Korea an ‘axis of evil’…” and sought to “install pro-American regimes in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon… Barack Obama doubled U.S. forces in Afghanistan, began drone strikes in Pakistan, and launched a war in Libya.”

[3]   We have reviewed Michael Scheuer’s books Marching Toward Hell (in our Spring 2009 issue) and Imperial Hubris (in our Winter 2005 issue).  The former appears as BR124 and the latter as BR95 on the Murphey collected writings website mentioned in Footnote 1.

[4]  Those interested in this hostile Latino literature will do well to read this reviewer’s article “If Past is Prologue: Americans’ Future ‘Guilt’ About Today’s Use of Low-Pay Immigrant Labor” in the Fall 2006 issue of this Journal.  It may be found on the Murphey collected writings website as A92.