Decline, Fall, Rinse, Repeat

Wednesday, August 26th, 2015

Adam Gopnik mocks Declinism:

What makes the bad days come? Why do we fall, and who calls us back, if anything can? Decline has the same fascination for historians that love has for lyric poets. Yet the coming catastrophe is always coming, and never quite getting here, so the first job the new declinist book has to do is explain why the previous declinist books were wrong. The population bomb that didn’t go boom! is an anchor tied to the ankle of the global warmers, while people who want to set up China as the new Yellow Peril are obliged to explain why the Rising Sun stopped rising. What’s more, since the intellectual predecessors of the declinist are all declinists, too, he has to grapple with the tricky point of insisting that the previous era was actually a peak rather than the valley that the previous declinists thought they were looking at.

With empires, as with rock bands, the most popular explanations of decline involve long-dormant disputes and frictions that came to life, or, more simply, a sinister force from Asia that brought the thing down and broke it up. At the same time, declinism can’t decline to the end. Although the forces of decline need to be ominously arrayed in tables and vectors, the author is expected to rally in the last chapter to explain the one way to reverse the otherwise irreversible: world government, national industrial policy, a third party, kindergarten education in Esperanto, or whatever. Everything has to be as inevitable as falling off a roof, and yet there has to be a chance for someone falling to suddenly fly. Declinism is, in other words, a genre as much as it is any set of claims.


  1. Jim says:

    So the Byzantine Empire is still with us?

Leave a Reply