America’s rapid rise to global hegemony and equally rapid decline is a grand historical tragedy of the highest order, and as in classical tragedy, the root cause is the protagonist’s central character flaw. Born of 18th-century liberal ideals, and centred on a sacred set of texts, a constitution and declaration of independence debated with rabbinical exactitude and religious fervour, for the United States, that flaw is its civic religion of liberalism.
While we at least, like our neighbours in Europe, have older traditions on which to draw, and with which we can temper liberalism’s zealous certainties, America was liberal from the start and will remain so until the end; with no countervailing influence, in America liberalism mutated into a fundamentalist religion. It is only through this zealot’s devotion to liberalism that American policymakers sincerely believed they could bomb Afghan shepherds and bribe the Chinese politburo into becoming fellow acolytes.
Their certainty in liberalism’s manifest destiny to spread itself over every corner of the earth goes beyond reasonable analysis: it is a purely religious faith. Despite the failure of its devotees to achieve success wherever they have tried it, they will not stop, and cannot. It is a compulsion, a religious duty impossible for them to abandon, shared by both factions.