As a Frenchman, author Emmanuel Todd will be suspected of blatant “America bashing” in After the Empire: The Breakdown of the American Order, but this is not an anti- American book; rather, it is a sobering analysis of America’s behavior based on a curious but revealing mix of anthropology, economics, demographics, and politics.
One way to understand Todd’s complex argument is to contrast, as he does, the “Good America” of 1950-1965 with the “Bad America” of the early twenty-first century. The former was marked by democracy, free speech, expanding social programs, and the civil rights movement at home, supported by a productive economy based on manufacturing and exports, and represented abroad by a generous foreign policy. “Bad America” has renounced the principle of equality and replaced it with a selfish oligarchy, allowed itself individually and collectively to fall into massive debt (including an unsustainable trade imbalance), and returned to its obsession with race. As a result, it has become driven by militarism, suspicious of international cooperation, and hence a force more for disruption than stability.
Equally disturbing for Todd is America’s rejection of universalism—its professed belief in the equality of all people. Using data on inter-racial marriages as a basis, he asserts that America’s inability to perceive Arabs as fully human drives its uncritical support of Israel and its war on Islamic terrorism.
Todd’s credibility as a prophet derives from his predicting the fall of the Soviet Union. Now he foresees a resurgent Eurasia, no longer dependent upon America militarily or economically. He argues that America needs to return to itself, “democratic, liberal, productive” if it is to regain its place in the world.
Though highly condensed, Todd’s arguments are cogently and calmly presented. Perhaps his most serious deficiency is his neglect of religion as a motivating force in contemporary American politics and an overly optimistic belief that education and control of reproduction will lead to widespread democracy. Many would find his claim of American economic weakness exaggerated. Nevertheless, this is a thoughtful and important book, one that needs to be read and seriously debated by Americans concerned about the nation’s direction and place in the world.