Noam Chomsky: The US is a failed state

Why it’s over for America:

That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that, as Gar Alperowitz puts it in America Beyond Capitalism, “the American ‘system’ as a whole is in real trouble – that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful democracy”.

The “system” is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognised to be, according to the journal Foreign Affairs, “frustratingly imprecise”, some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious “democratic deficit” that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.

Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of “failed states” right at home.

I have mixed feelings on this myself. On the one hand, I agree with much of Chomsky’s analysis. The lessons of history all show that the US is on a dangerous road. We’re an empire in decline and a people dangerously disconnected from the values that once united us.

However, I’m not sure I’m ready to write us off as failed yet. Bush is bad, yes, but has he damaged us so irrecoverably that we can’t heal? Has he been that much worse than say, Nixon? Is Iraq that much more dangerous to our long term survival than Vietnam was? Are we worse off now than say during the pre and post Civil War periods?

I don’t pretend to have the answers; the only way to know is to look back a generation from now and see what’s become of us in the next several decades.

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