A tragic sense of history does not limit the depth of the fall of the mighty and flawed, nor does it pretend that prevailing orders degrade in a slow, controlled and managed decline.
Collapse of political orders, institutions, empires and cultures as often comes quickly, almost suddenly, and rarely with expert forecasts pre-loaded.
So it would seem – from the accelerating disrespect of America emerging in recent diplomatic exchanges – is the fate of the American Empire and its political and cultural order.
Last August I wrote the post below, teasing a comparison between the prospect of American decline and the “century of humiliation” experienced by China between the First Opium Wars in the 1840s and the 1949 Revolution. Though American elites often entertain the thought of decline, they rarely visualise it fully. A tragic sense of history would instruct these elites that empires really do collapse, and that elites rarely can control events driven by deep flaws in culture and political order.
America’s elites are yet to learn this lesson. They feel challenged, but they respond with a complacent or combative American supremacist idea: America is the indispensable nation; America is the city on the hill showing the way to the world; America is the freedom loving rebel who overthrows the evil empires of the world and makes them bend to the the rules of the great republic, invented by the American mind.
This mindset is expressed in the intellectual pretence of the “Longer telegram“, published by the Atlantic Council, and thought to reflect the thinking, or even the writing, of the Biden Regime’s Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken. There a strategy for China is set out that merely assumes not a multi-polar world, but a China that will kow-tow to the American dreams of its own mandate of heaven. There it is written:
the major problem facing the United States in confronting Xi’s China is not one of military, economic, or technological capabilities. It is one of self-belief. There is a subtle yet corrosive force that has been at work in the United States’ national psychology for some time now, raising doubt about the nation’s future and encouraging a sense that, as a country, America’s best days may now be in the past. Adversaries and allies sense this as well. Objectively, there is no basis for any such despair. The United States, as a country, is young, and the capacity for innovation is unsurpassed. The values for which it stands have stood the test of time. This is where the nation’s leadership must once again step up to the challenge—not just to provide the nation with vision, mission, and purpose; not just to frame the strategy and give it effect; but to cause the American people to once again believe in the nation and its capacity to provide effective global leadership for the century ahead. In doing so, the nation must also lead its friends and allies to once again believe in the United States as well.Atlantic Council, the longer telegram: towards a new american china strategy
But the problem is the world no longer believes in America. Its Capitol is surrounded by troops and razor wire to protect its elite from the fears generated by a false flag event. It runs its elections like a chook lottery in a pub. Its leadership is gerontocratic, corrupt and incompetent. Its wars are endless and futile, except for the corporations and oligarchs who profit from them. Its media and Big Tech tyrannise the minds of the world and silence the voices of the parallel polis. Its institutions have failed. Its republic is exposed as a bankrupt, post-democratic media state.
Jo Biden boasts, like an ageing mountain of a triad, that “America is back.” The problem is the world leaders know exactly the emptiness of this self-deluding boast. Recent diplomatic events show the world’s leaders no longer care to conceal their contempt for the mad old king.
When Jo Biden staged an interview with ABC news and called Russia’s head of State, Vladimir Putin a “killer” who would “pay a price” and “had no soul,” he must have assumed the whole world was the same echo chamber of compliant conformists that American media has become. Perhaps he was building himself up as a “tough guy” for a domestic audience. Perhaps he was creating a diversion from his weakness towards China by displaying his toughness against Russia . Perhaps he was preparing the ground for another intervention in Ukraine by the neo-conservative war machine. But he clearly did not think it through. Vladimir Putin called him out as projecting; read back America’s shameful record of violence to itself; wished Biden health, “without irony”; and then challenged Biden to a dialogue, live and without editing or prompts om global policy and national security issues. Biden was exposed to the entire world as the “tough guy” emperor with no clothes, no authority, and no crown.
Then, perhaps even in a coordinated response, China’s key diplomats responded to Blinken’s over-long telegram with sharp rebukes, and a defiant tone. In part-quoted remarks Yang responded to the claims of rules-based order, serving democracy, and puruing an ever-greater union with defiance:
Well, isn’t this the intention of the United States — judging from what, or the way that you have made your opening remarks — that it wants to speak to China in a condescending way from a position of strength?
So was this carefully all planned and was it carefully orchestrated with all the preparations in place? Is that the way that you had hoped to conduct this dialogue?
Well, I think we thought too well of the United States. We thought that the U.S. side will follow the necessary diplomatic protocols. So for China it was necessary that we made our position clear.
So let me say here that, in front of the Chinese side, the United States does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. The U.S. side was not even qualified to say such things even 20 years or 30 years back, because this is not the way to deal with the Chinese people. If the United States wants to deal properly with the Chinese side, then let’s follow the necessary protocols and do things the right way., Chinese Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi via Nikkei news
But perhaps more tellingly, the Chinese diplomats (of far greater experience and stature than Blinken and Sullivan) said:
The United States itself does not represent international public opinion, and neither does the Western world. Whether judged by population scale or the trend of the world, the Western world does not represent the global public opinion. So we hope that when talking about universal values or international public opinion on the part of the United States, we hope the U.S. side will think about whether it feels reassured in saying those things, because the U.S. does not represent the world. It only represents the government of the United States. I don’t think the overwhelming majority of countries in the world would recognize that the universal values advocated by the United States or that the opinion of the United States could represent international public opinion, and those countries would not recognize that the rules made by a small number of people would serve as the basis for the international order., Chinese Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Yang Jiechi via Nikkei news
The chorus of international opinion puncturing these absurd fantasies of the American imperial elite will grow ever stronger in years to come. The citizens of the world will switch off Netflix and close down twitter, and lives by other values. America is no longer the city on a hill laying a foundation of a new world. The world knows this, and will resist the incessant force-fed delusions of American culture that it was ever so in reality, as opposed to Winthrop and his successors’ grand aspiration. America is a decaying empire in denial, led by “an old, mad, blind, despised and dying King” (Shelley, “England in 1819), and it is about to experience a rapid descent into a looming century of humiliation.
America’s Coming Century of Humiliation
(originally posted August 2020)
Could it be that the current unrest in America and the disintegration of its political, social and cultural institutions are the beginning of its own 21st century version of the Chinese Qing Empire’s Century of Humiliation – 百年耻辱?
Could it even be that the leaders of China – who by the account of Michael Pillsbury, a longtime China expert in America’s security state, are pursuing a hundred year marathon to supplant America as the global super-power – are exacting a symmetrical revenge on the Empire that rose on the back of China’s humiliation by inducing a similar sequence of elite betrayals, commercial treachery, social decay, ethno-nationalism, political decay, armed rebellion and institutional collapse?
The comparison has been made by some American security analysts, although made at a superficial level that does not identify the full scale of the collapse of an imperial order that occurred in China in the nineteenth century.
So, comparisons are drawn between British importers of Opium in 1840s and the flood of fentanyl from China into the United States of America over the last decade. The hawkish analysts highlight the malfeasance or immorality of China trafficking in addiction, but do not question the weakness of American society that led so many Americans to want to use the drug and to partake in its trade.
Other comparisons can be made between elements of the Century of Humiliation. The American commercial elite resembles the Hong Kong merchants of the 1840s seeking to unlock commercial advantages in a complacent confidence that their imperial authority would never be weakened. Is #BlackLives Matter really at its source a millenarian movement of ethno-nationalism challenging a dominant ethnic group, like the Han, similar to the Miao rebellion of 1854 to 1873? Is the unrest and insurrection the beginning of a widespread, devastating civil war – a full spectrum civil war, not only fought as a kinetic war – similar to the Taiping rebellion of 1850-64, driven by radical objectives of social change, a reborn form of religious faith and a charismatic, if delusional, spurned leader in Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez? Is Hilary Clinton the Dowager Empress, never formally in power, and yet through plots, schemes and favourites presiding over an institutional sclerosis of the American Empire?
My knowledge of nineteenth century Chinese history is not strong enough to detail these hypotheses beyond the suggestive. However, it does seem clear that the American Empire and the idea of American Greatness are collapsing. The collapse is engineered by the exploitation by its own and its imperial rivals of the weaknesses of its elites and institutions. The ball has been released from the top of the spiral, and nothing can stop it now.
Image Source: Scene from the Taiping Revolution (1850-64), Regaining the Provincial Capital of Ruizho, created 1886