The Infantilizing of the Academy

Recently, I was asked by an Italian author and journalist, working on an article for Il Giorno on the subject of “mute liberalism” and political correctness in the U.S., for my impressions of the “decadence” afflicting American culture. He wanted to know what the reasons were for what he saw as a political and cultural wasting disease and, in particular, when the inexorable slide began into self-censorship, pervasive hedonism, the debasement of the social and intellectual elites, the abandonment of republican principles and the reversal of traditional social roles.

This was a question too vanishingly large to answer definitively, but it did get me thinking once again about some of the factors that might have caused—as Québécois producer Denys Arcand put it in the title and story of his sadly amusing film—the The Decline of the American Empire, a film modeled on Edward Gibbons’ The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Decadence, of course, is not solely an American phenomenon; no Western country is exempt from the vectors of degeneration at work in the liberal/democratic sphere today. But what happens to the U.S., as the guarantor of Western freedom and prosperity, happens to the rest of us. With America in decline, none of its dependents—and we are all its dependents, however loath we may be to admit it—will be spared. Indeed, most Western countries can survive their moral and political deterioration so long as America is willing and able to support them militarily, fiscally and politically, which is, for example, the story of ungrateful Europe since the Marshall Plan. Such is no longer the case. This is why the preoccupation of non-nationals—Italians like my interviewer, Canadians like me—with the fortunes of the U.S. is an issue of primary concern.