Worldfarm One and the End of the American Century

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cover of Worldfarm OneWhen I originally wrote Worldfarm One—the story of a man from the United States who travels to Brazil to work, and learns the hard way how hard immigration can be—I expected there to be comments about the characters, about the sexuality and sex-role-reversals, the casting-couch business practices, the feed-the-world model, the prejudice, even my descriptions of Manaus and the surrounding Amazonian regions in the book.

I was surprised, therefore, to discover the greatest number of comments generated by the book were about the idea that the United States would, in the future, lose its status of “greatest nation of the world,” and because of economic hardships, American citizens would be forced to immigrate to other countries with greater opportunities to make a living.

I remember being roundly criticized for even suggesting the United States could “fall,” and that it was not the great country it once was.  I was also soundly drubbed for suggesting that the United Nations, once the U.S. was forced to give up its dominant place in the world, would finally rise to become the dominant world government it was always meant to be.  The comments were equally emotional, maintaining the U.S.’ everlasting sovereignty while emphasizing the U.N.’s ineptitude and pathetic worldwide track record.

Still, I stood by my story, understanding the fact that, so far, every world empire had eventually fallen, and there was no reason to assume the U.S. would be any different.  At one point, “all roads lead to Rome.”  Today, Rome is being abandoned for more lucrative parts of the world, while its government struggles to remain solvent.  At one point, “the sun never set on the British Empire.”  Today, Brits are part of but one country in the European Union, an organization that they certainly can’t claim to run, and all the other territories have been given up, one by one, having proven too tough to keep under the British umbrella.

And this week, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education came along to back up my assertion.  In “The American Century Is Over—Good Riddance,” author Andrew J. Bacevich singles out an essay from Life magazine that proclaimed the 20th century as “America’s century,” in poetic, patriotic and ultimately self-serving language.  Bacevich credits the article as almost single-handedly raising the American consciousness to the point of accepting the U.S. as the greatest country in the world; said consciousness coloring the things we did and the way we interacted with those in and out of our country, and eventually convincing the rest of the world that we were right, after all.  The flood of immigrants to our shores, our dominance of world affairs, our military position, all stemmed from that overblown sense of greatness.

Then the article describes how far America has slipped, in might, influence and financial power; how America struggles under the weight of its own meltdown, and as it does, loses the ability to command others.  Bacevich proclaims that the 21st century will not be owned by the U.S., though he draws back from naming our successor for century-ownership.

Those who saw this coming have suggested other countries… China is a popular guess, being the next great superpower after the U.S…. but China has issues, too, and a prodigious weight to overcome themselves.  This is the case in every one of the former superpowers, and most of the medium-sized countries besides; the era of the dominant country—any country—may be over.

I think it more likely that all countries will come to appreciate that, without large and powerful countries to throw their weight around (and who can decreasingly afford to do so anyway), the world will be better off being run by a central government overseeing the governments of the countries… much like the government of most countries oversee the activities of state governments under their wing.  A truly cosmopolitan government will finally bring about a truly cosmopolitan world, and a fair sharing of resources amongst all our peoples.

Is this an inevitable development?  Not really; we could still see larger countries, or those with specific military might or other valuable resources, hold sway over the rest.  But in the long run, this will be counter-productive, and I’d like to think that at some point, cooler (or more practical) heads will prevail.

When and if they do, we can only hope that a One World Order will be able to govern the people—for the first time, all of the people—better than individual governments can manage now.

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