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Spain’s lessons for American decline

Over the last few decades, the hegemony of the dollar has thrown the United States into the same position that Spain enjoyed after the conquest of the Aztec and Inca empires. Like the Habsburg monarchs of earlier ages, those running the American economy are capable of running “deficits without tears,” to quote the French economist and advisor to Charles de Gaulle Jacques Rueff. correct word. But if Spanish history is any guide, Rueff was not entirely right about the lack of tears. Unfortunately, all that money tempts you to do what less well-off countries would hesitate to consider, because they can’t afford it: fight endless wars. The example of Spain suggests that tears may await countries whose elites are convinced that they have been chosen by God to spread their faith around the world or, to update the language, that theirs is the “indispensable nation” of the world, ordered by history to bring it to the end.

Michael Lind once wrote that “countries that cannot finance current account deficits cannot fight wars.” In other words, if you can’t find the money to equip the armies, you will find your ability to engage militarily, well, hampered. Consider the adage that the Confederacy lost the Civil War as much on the banking floors of London as it did on the battlefields of Virginia. After all, that is, the Confederates couldn’t borrow the money they needed to keep fighting. But there is a flip side to Lind’s comment. Running “deficits without tears” seems to tempt countries—or at least, the ruling classes of those countries—to global imperial projects, driven by the fantasy that they are the vehicles of universal salvation.

In Spain: The root and the flower, Crow observed that when Charles V “engaged in wars all over Europe and America … the goal that guided his life was to defeat the Protestants and establish an immense Catholic empire.” This goal should be familiar to contemporary readers. From John F. Kennedy’s call to “pay any price, bear any burden . . . to ensure the survival and success of liberty” to the call of George W. Bush’s advisers, David Frum and Richard Perle , to “end evil” in such a book. title of President Biden’s portrayal of Washington’s power struggles in Ukraine as a matter of “guarding freedom today, tomorrow and forever,” those at the helm of America’s global empire have been driven by visions comparably grandiose. In fact, once you start looking for resonances between the Spain of Felipe II, III and IV on the one hand, and America from JFK to Biden on the other, you start to notice them everywhere , and they are. t limited to flights of rhetoric.

You see Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, like Philip II before them, deploying great armies against third-rate powers and turning their backs on them. You see the transfer of the foundation of genuine wealth—industrial capacity—away from Spain and the United States to their satellites and rivals: the Netherlands and Great Britain in the first instance; Japan, South Korea and China in the second. You see the channeling of the “wealth into foreign coffers” that Crow wrote about in Habsburg Spain occurred once again in the George W. Bush administration’s spending on the invasion Iraq; Japan (They earned the dollars to buy these securities through trade and current account surpluses with America.)

The parallels extend from the material substrate to the cultural and ideological sphere. The Protestant Reformation provoked the same kind of hysteria and outrage among sixteenth-century Spanish elites that the rise of Soviet Communism provoked among their American counterparts four centuries later. This is not surprising, because Protestant denominations and Marxism are heretical sects within mainstream religions, and civil wars, especially religious civil wars, tend to be the most vicious. In other words, neither Protestants nor Marxists challenged the basic tenets of the established religions from which they emerged: they were simply going to be better communicators, purifying Christianity or, if necessary, using “scientific” means to achieve the illustration vision of a society directed according to the dictates of reason. However, the intention to reform or replace the existing institutions — the priesthood and the sacraments; capitalist markets and bourgeois democracy provoked a virulent reaction.

Crow wrote of the time when Spain became the bridgehead of the Counter-Reformation: “Everything Spanish and Catholic was good; everything that was not Spanish and not Catholic was bad”. One remembers how the United States, the self-anointed embodiment of the Enlightenment virtues of freedom, tolerance and progress, reacted to the appearance of a rival in Moscow for the title of major player in history. A self-identified communist in 1950s America faced somewhat less dire prospects than a Protestant in 1590s Spain, although sometimes the electric chair, as in the cases of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, was replaced by the stake. And the effects were similar. As Crow noted, “a single Protestant Church never arose in Spain,” and the United States, unlike the democracies of Western Europe, has never had a left-wing political party that came close to with the levers of power. (Of course, these parallels have limits. Among other things, Marxism as a rival ideology to liberal capitalism has collapsed, while many Protestant sects are eating away at Rome’s rule in the very lands in which Spain achieve his goal of implanting the Catholic religion). .)

The collapse of Soviet communism has not stopped the American elite from continuing to portray their foreign adventures in a manner reminiscent of the way Spain justified its role in the Thirty Years’ War: as crusades to eliminate evil and heresy. A vast and bloated defense establishment, including arms manufacturers, Pentagon officials, think tank denizens, spies and their media mouthpieces in organs such as The Atlantic i The Washington Post with its endless drumbeats for ever-increasing expenditures of blood and treasure, it needs these wars to justify its continuation, but it can’t quite admit it. Therefore, garden-variety strongmen like Vladimir Putin are seen as demons of unlimited malevolence and power, capable of dictating the outcome of US presidential elections by zombifying millions of Americans, just as disaffected youth in the Middle East and tribal elders in the Hindu Kush with antiquated notions of gender relations were labeled “evil” two decades ago, with the implication that no price is too great to bring about their “end”. Similarly, a rising power in East Asia, acting as the United States did 200 years ago with the proclamation of the Monroe Doctrine, is seen as a kind of historically unprecedented monster to indicate that it intends to to put an end to external interference in its region.

“The new Holy Office’s most formidable tool is its control of the Internet.”

Nor did the collapse of the USSR prevent the Washington Blob from establishing an updated Court of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, or several. It has new names, the State Department’s “Global Engagement Center” being one of the most prominent, but the goals remain the same: to ferret out heresy, or as they now call it, “disinformation.” The origins and goals of these new incarnations of the Holy Office have been layout in devastating detail by tablet‘s Jacob Siegel:

The United States is still in the early stages of a mass mobilization that seeks to harness all sectors of society under a singular technocratic rule. The mobilization, which began as a response to the supposedly urgent threat of Russian interference, is now evolving into a total information control regime that has taken on the mission of eradicating abstract dangers such as error, injustice and harm, a goal only worthy. of leaders who believe they are infallible.

The institutional and technical apparatus that this recently reincarnated Holy Office has built to impose orthodoxy and eliminate error would earn the envy and admiration of its Spanish forebears. It starts with the ubiquitous offices of diversity, equity, and inclusion in virtually every corporation, university, government agency, and civil society organization. The shorthand that has replaced journalism in the establishment media: CNN, MSNBC, The News from New York—has also proven to be useful; To quote Siegel again, “the American press, once the guardian of democracy, was hollowed out to the point where it could be used as a puppet by US security agencies and party operatives.” But the most formidable tool of the new Holy Office is its control of the Internet. Here we find echoes of the Catholic hierarchy’s draconian response to vernacular translations of the Bible and their wide dissemination made possible by the newly invented printing press. Imagine the scandal of those without clerical collars—or Ivy League degrees, as the case may be—who make up their own minds about how to interpret scripture or, as it is now called, “science”!


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