Walter Russell Mead says “Don’t stop worrying about America’s decline”

IMG_3227.JPG       Photo by Taylor Smiley

“Is America in decline?” Walter Russell Mead began his introduction to a room full of people he dubbed as the “white hair caucus.”

Mead is a Scholar at the Hudson Institute, Professor at Bard College, and a contributor for the Wall Street Journal. With his list of credentials and plethora of successful books, he accumulated quite the audience at the Herbert University Center at UNF. The 69 year old author, educator and columnist explained that while most people believe that the height of our country’s successes can only be met with a sharp downfall, or decline, he explains the reason for our constant worrying. Americans, as he describes, are worry warts. But, the problem does not lie in what we are, but what we aren’t. He says that our very ability to obsess and worry over different matters is exactly what is keeping our country at the forefront in our world today. 

“Don’t stop worrying.” 

Mead explains that the power of stability is it’s own power. He relates this theme to the Egyptians and Barbarians, way before our time, and the constant change of power in the world’s history. He believes that when Americans view change in the world, they read it as a sign that the hegemonic power of the United States is losing it’s grip. There’s a difference, he expresses, between American power and the power of empires before our time. 

“American power is linked at the core to capitalism. And capitalism, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, is the most revolutionary force in the history of planet earth. It’s not about doing the same old thing in the same way.” 

“Why is China becoming a superpower today? The reason is, that thanks to a combination of revolutions and communications technology with the computer and internet, you can now have an integrated global supply chain so that a lot of stuff can be made in China, assembled in Mexico and sold on the shelves of a Wal-Mart in Jacksonville, Florida in a seamless way.” As a result, he says China has become a manufacturing powerhouse. While they used to be seen as a very weak and poor country to a lot of people, they have emerged as a new great power “shaking the world to it’s foundations.” He emphasizes that this is not a sign of America in decline, but rather a sign of America at work. 

America is a revolutionary force in world affairs, sometimes good and sometimes bad, according to Mead. He had an interesting analogy to describe how America is never quite out of the picture. He says we are the chief arsonists and the world’s Fire Marshall. We keep the change at rest, similar to our higher power. 

With the creation of the internet, we created a social force that is changing politics, media and the balance of power within and between countries. “We can start talking about America in decline when the world stops changing. When things settle down and there aren’t new inventions, and there aren’t changes in the balance of power. That’s when we’ll know that American capitalism has finished its revolutionary role in the world, and I don’t think were there yet.” 

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