My reviewrating: 3 of 5 stars
Cultural and social historian Morris Berman exposes what many of us who still read have known all along, i.e. that the life of the mind in a mindless America has been drowned by a huge consumeristic fantasy. Arnold Toynbee observed that it is precisely in the declining phase of a civilization that it beats the drums of self-congratulation most fiercely. Similarly Berman points out that the dominant public voice in reaction to the destruction of our culture and civility is one of insistent celebration, which is exactly why there is no hope in avoiding the immanent collapse. In this globalized distopia, Berman argues that the repeal of the Bretton-Woods Agreement in 1971 set the stage for the current predatory economy, eroded real democracy, and destabilized the American empire both at home at abroad. The fact that this book was written prior to the scandals - legal, political, and economic - of the second Bush administration shows just how prescient, and frightening (to me at least), Berman's take on modern American 'life' is. "We are knee-deep in Orwellian waters, my friends," concludes Berman. "I don't think the future bodes well for our much transformed experiment in democracy."
Quite interestingly, Berman, convinced that the US is already in serious decline, posits that the EU, and not China, may be the next world hegemon in a generation. "Micky Mouse and Coka Cola will continue to have their allure...but in the end, the sheer sensibility of the European approach, its savvy internationalism, and perhaps more solid currency are going to look a lot better than American arrogance and violence.... [and] Europe may come closest to offering its citizens the best lifestyle currently available on the planet."
This is not an anti-Bush rant (though Berman gets his digs in), as 'W' is more symptom than cause, but rather a piece of personal catharsis by a modern Cicero who knows the end approacheth but will be damned to go under without pointing a finger at our own collective stupidity. And lest we forget the Roman pattern, by the time Caligula came along the rot had already taken hold.
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