Letter: The Power of Embracing Change
To the Editor:
Michael Johnson’s May 21 letter, “Fall of the American Empire,” did indeed highlight some disturbing trends in our society. The idea that such an instance of incoherent communication and poor grasp of history might be representative of our society is indeed frightening.
First, history’s acknowledged superpowers include the United States, the Soviet Union and Great Britain (ancient Rome was not a global power, so its inclusion in the list would be highly suspect). Second, Johnson seems to have forgotten about several countries that meet his own personal definition of a superpower — a country that is “dominant militarily, politically, economically and culturally.” What Johnson seems to fail to understand is that each of these major military, political, economic or cultural powers emerged because it embraced a new movement, not because it dwelt on old and outmoded ideas of governance. Rome had one of the first professional armies. England (the country that expressed the most religious “toleration” in Europe, to use Johnson’s term) began its meteoric 16th-century rise to global power when it embraced the new economic philosophy of mercantilism. The Soviet Union emerged by harnessing the discontent of workers who felt they were reaping all of the losses and none of the gains of the industrial revolution. The United States grew and prospered by defining itself by the radically liberal ideas of the 18th century (universal male suffrage and an elected executive) and by opening its doors to immigration in the 19th and 20th centuries.
In the middle of the 20th century, it seemed certain that the United States would occupy an unimpeachable position of power for the foreseeable future, but it is no longer the middle of the 20th century. We occupy a different world, which will require different strategies to meet its new challenges. Many would say that it is no longer pragmatic or even moral to maintain an empire. If we confront the challenges of the coming years by fetishizing the past and shunning anything that does not meet our narrow and subjective definitions of morality, then we do so at our peril.