If an attempt is made to expand the current wars of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya to include Syria and Iran, decline will come sooner than later. If there is continued high defense spending that siphons off precious resources from the considerably weakened civilian economy, especially education, decadence is coming sooner than many expect. If the welfare state continues to drain resources from workers and the middle class through the regressive fiscal structure, salary and benefits, and cuts in programs, decadence is just around the corner where the Chinese are waiting to assume global economic leadership.
Decadence of empires takes place in every sector from economic to cultural, and is it difficult to recognize while it is unfolding because the signs are an integral part of an almost organic process that goes from maturity to old age. The Romans, the Spaniards, the British realized decadence far too late after it had set in, and even then they refused to change course because change implies that the privileged orders lose their status and benefits they enjoyed in society. Hegemony is an aphrodisiac for the elites, while the masses waiting for a messiah blindly follow fearing the unknown.
How long can an empire last before it it begins to crumble, while its political, economic and social elites delude themselves because their privileges are unaffected? The American Empire (Pax Americana) has lasted for more than a century and that is indeed a long time, given the intense global competition for hegemony in various areas from military and economics to industry and technology. The World Bank and private institutions are predicting that China will become the preeminent world economic power in less than 15 years, a prospect that could very well translate into military preeminence. If and how China manages its economic hegemony and how it decides to link it to defense as has the US for more than a century remains to be seen. The temptation to link economic to military power will be too enticing to resist.
Despite inevitable decadence, the US will remain a “great power” like Germany, UK, France. Depending on how it decides to support (or not) higher education, it may remain a world leader in non-military-related science and technology areas. If the higher education model is to support anything defense-related, anything that corporations can use, anything government can use for PR and political purposes, then decadence will continue in higher education where US is currently a world leader. Unfortunately, the value system of the academic elites has been for sale to the highest bidder, and that means academics are partly to blame for the decadence unfolding in the American Empire. There are very few academic voices crying out for a return to a Renaissance in higher education intended for the edification of the pupil and not the utilitarian value to government or corporate world.
Boxed and packaged creativity for sale to the highest bidder–government and corporations–naturally entails limitations of the human spirit. Instead of remaining in the enticing mode of hegemony and the glory of the past, the elites of the American Empire, especially educators always quick to sell out and cheaply at that, could be taking steps now to prepare for a transition from Great Power status. However, like the Romans, Spaniards, and British they will want to go down with the empire than to surrender to a lower status.