The Collapse of the American Empire, Part I: Demographics

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by Erik Striker, The Unz Review:

As much as neo-conservative/Zionist ideologues like Robert Kagan write about the exceptional inevitability of the American world order, there is a general sinking feeling among the people of the United States that this country does not have a future.

Is this impression justified? Students of imperial decline can examine historical observations and parallels to decide.

Admittedly, utilizing historicism to try and predict geopolitical developments in the short and medium term is an imperfect science, often taking the form of prejudiced soothsaying or intuitive assertions.

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Part of the problem is an overreliance on ancient history, particularly Rome, as a reference point for understanding the rise and fall of empire. The lack of specific data regarding the developments that culminated in Rome’s downfall has led to subsequent commentators to fill in the blanks through the ideological prisms of their time. For example, 18th-century British historian Edward Gibbon singled out the Roman elite’s behavioral decadence as the catalyst for its downfall. Individual moral purity was a strong fixation for Protestant Englishmen like Gibbons during his time, but this theory can be challenged by information revealing widescale moral excesses among Roman rulers during the lead up and fruition of the empire’s 2nd Century AD territorial peak, e.g., the infamously obscene Caligula or Nero. Today, narratives blaming climate change for Rome’s decline, a 21st century obsession, have gained a foothold.

A more direct comparison with the downfall of the Soviet Union, where detailed information is available, is more useful in seeking to investigate the malaise and long-term viability of the America empire. The United States of 2024 shares several demographic trends with the Soviet Union of the 1970s — “the era of stagnation” — that ultimately led to the vast Eurasian superpower’s implosion in 1991.

When examining the short to medium term (10 to 30 years) prognosis of the American empire, we will also contrast it with its major adversaries: primarily Russia and China, and, supplementally (more so in later articles), Iran.

This author stresses that it is under no impression that either Russia, China, or Iran can defeat the American empire on their own. All three countries have different advantages over the United States in their world-historical struggle against neo-liberal unipolarity, but also disadvantages as individual contenders, suggesting that a future without Pax Americana could be a pre-WWII one limited to natural spheres of influence rather than a recreation of Washington’s ambitious efforts for world domination. If the three powers coordinate and unite — as China and Russia’s “no limits” partnership or the two powers’ multi-year pacts with Iran suggest they have — the Washington-led, post-war liberal world order may go down sooner than we expect.

Russia and China remain behind America on a wide array of metrics, but what is impossible to deny is that they are starting to catch up while the United States is broadly at an inflection point. In 2021, Xi Jinping made this point in his address, affirming that “time and momentum” were on China’s side.

One logical point to make is that, generally speaking, life for ordinary Russian and Chinese people is objectively getting better, while things are getting demonstrably worse in American. This alone can create divergences in national morale during a great power competition.

The economic, military, soft power, political, and other factors pointing to the coming failure and geopolitical neutralization of the US and its ideology on the world stage will be explored in future articles.

Part I: Demographics

One of the first symptoms of a nation’s decline is a breakdown in social and human health. Often small changes in data related to population well-being speaks to an underwater iceberg of more significant and systematic problems within a people.

At the hump of the USSR’s “Brezhnev stagnation” in the mid to late 1970s, demographers began speculating about the health of the once seemingly omnipotent empire after discovering that the nation’s rates of infant mortality were beginning to rise. Though this increase was minor — only a few percentage points — it broke a cycle of decades of rapid gains in the survivability of Soviet infants since the end of World War II.

This was perplexing to mainstream observers at the time, as the Soviet Union was, financially, enjoying relative prosperity due to a global oil export boom triggered by the Arab League’s 1973 oil embargo. The USSR under Leonid Brezhnev (who ruled from 1964-1982) planned its economy to become a military peer of the United States (especially in the realm of nuclear weapons), was industrially powerful, and matched or led its rivals in the world in various cutting-edge fields, such as aerospace.

Yet despite the superficial success of the system, the USSR’s most important asset, its people, began showing signs of decay and misery.

Today in the United States, we are seeing similar patterns.

In the Soviet context, Central Asian Minorities within the multi-ethnic Soviet space, who benefited from special economic, social and legal privileges (before America, the Bolsheviks of the Soviet Union created the first nation to practice official racial discriminate against its own ethnic majority citizens, as detailed in Terry Martin’s 2001 book The Affirmative Action Empire), grew at much faster rates than the less fertile Slavic population during the 1960s and 70s. By 1979, ethnic Russians declined to barely 52% of the Soviet population.

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