Mark Steyn’s new book, After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, is both spiritually and chronologically a direct sequel to his landmark America Alone. If you liked the earlier work, you’ll love this one. It’s bigger, stronger, scarier, and funnier. If America Alone was Steyn’s Star Wars, this is the rare sequel that improves on the original: The Empire Strikes Out.
Steyn’s unique gift is a combination of topical mastery and biting humor. He has gazed overlong into the abyss, but he’s laughing too hard for it to gaze back into him. Here he provides a snapshot of the collapse of Greece:
When you binge-spend at the Greek level in a democratic state, there aren’t many easy roads back. The government introduced an austerity package to rein in spending. In response, Greek tax collectors walked off the job. Read that again slowly: to protest government cuts, striking tax collectors refuse to collect taxes. In a sane world, this would be a hilarious comedy sketch. But most of the western world is no longer sane.
After relating the story of how California micro-regulation forced a hardware store owner to stop offering coffee and donuts to his customers, Steyn sums up the lesson learned:
When the law says that it’s illegal for a storekeeper to offer his customer a cup of coffee, you should be proud to be in non-compliance. Otherwise, what the hell did you guys bother holding a revolution for? Say what you like about George III, but he didn’t prosecute the Boston Tea Party for unlicensed handling of beverage ingredients in a public place.
Every page is loaded with both extensively footnoted factual references and hilarious zingers, in roughly equal measure. Not a single passage in the book is either hollow or dry.
One of the themes running through Steyn’s work is that events in socialist-Armageddon Europe provide a glimpse into America’s near future. From Greek riots to British… er, riots, the collapse of the dependency state is ugly, and Steyn fears that it will be worse for America, given our size and the lack of a “new America” to make our decline as genteel and comfortable as late 20th-century Europe’s was. We’ll get to the burning banks faster.
As a well-traveled immigrant, Steyn has seen Obama-style unsustainable maternal government fail around the globe. After dissecting the childlike liberal strategy of defending ObamaCare by insisting all opposition to the program is grounded in racism, he remarks: “I can’t speak for the rest of you racists, sexists, and homophobes, but I’ve opposed government health care in Canada, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, and anywhere else I’ve been on the receiving end of it.”
Steyn is fascinated by the way truly world-changing progress was stalled in the latter half of the Twentieth Century. He lays much of the blame for this technological quagmire at the feet of Big Government, which spends much of its time strangling innovation with knotted cords of red tape. He uses H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine as an extended metaphor throughout the book, noting that a time traveler leaping forward fifty years from Wells’ day would be astonished by the changes to everyday life brought about by technological progress, but a second jump of fifty years would leave him saddened by how little real change there has been since then. We’ve got access to highly advanced means of frivolity, and everything happens faster in the 21st Century, but where are the great engineering feats and miraculous cures? Why is there still a hole in the ground where the World Trade Center used to be?
From The Time Machine, Steyn also appropriates the concept of the Eloi and Morlocks, the bifurcated humanity Wells envisioned 800,000 years in the future. It’s happening far ahead of schedule, with a useless and effete coastal Eloi ruling over the increasingly restless Morlocks of “flownover country.” Unlike the delicate creatures of the Wells fantasy, today’s Eloi don’t provide food for the Morlocks. They don’t even provide jobs.
The Eloi wear bumper stickers as blindfolds, and Steyn has great fun tearing apart their hollow slogan-based mindset. If you’re a friend of the author’s, I would advise against getting him a “COEXIST” bumper sticker for Christmas, as I think he’s had just about enough of that one.
As with America Alone, the most potent idea humming through the high-tension wires of After America is demography as destiny. As Steyn puts it, “the future belongs to those who show up for it.” Death-spiral birth rates have sealed the doom of stagnant Japan and unsustainable Europe, while guaranteeing the ascendancy of a rapidly growing Muslim population. Steyn took a lot of heat for suggesting, in America Alone, that demographics would settle the clash of civilizations, and not in a good way for Western liberal culture. In After America, he notes that collapsing birth rates will also bring an abrupt end to the Ponzi schemes of deficit spending, as the inter-generational theft of entitlement spending runs into a shrunken future population with moths in their wallets.
In the early days of Western socialism, entitlements were promoted as individual property, professionally managed by the honest and capable State. Your Social Security plan was funded with your money, gathering interest in a “lockbox.” By the end of the 20th Century, entitlements had become a matter of taxing current workers to provide the benefits of retirees. In the new age of trillion-dollar deficits and $200 trillion liability mountains, the game has become taxing people who aren’t even born yet to fund benefits paid today. Steyn explains how this mad system will crash, and crash hard.
Despite the title, very little of After America is a straightforward prediction of how things will be going in the post-American world of 2020 or 2050. Steyn plays a better game than that. Time and again, he relates the history of rapacious government over-reaching and collapsing, allowing readers to write the dystopian science fiction of our probable future in their own imaginations. We eventually do get a letter from the future, written by the guy who finds the Time Machine after H.G. Wells’ epoch-jumping hero gets mugged, and the news from 2050 is not pretty.
It would be difficult to write this book with so much wacky humor if Steyn didn’t retain a core of optimism about America’s ability to escape the destiny written by her Eloi. He’s got some suggestions, and offers a tip of the hat to the growing movement of industrious and articulate Morlocks lugging crates of tea to the nearest harbor. It is the great central insight of After America that the United States is different than every other country. That doesn’t mean we are immune to history – Steyn repeatedly warns against such dangerous delusions. It means that both the good and bad endings to the saga of the New Deal will be epic, and both will shape the world.
For a few last, precious moments, we still have something that is dying in the empty shadows of the broke, exhausted, self-loathing Western world around us: a choice. If we choose badly, we will not be spared by the forces racing through the world that comes after America. There is no better way to look ahead than by reading Mark Steyn’s sobering, hilarious, maddening, uplifting, coldly rational, deliriously insane book.