Can American civilization collapse? You bet! All others have. We don't need a Mayan calendar to foreshadow the end. Signs are everywhere, we just need a brain to process the onslaught of information.
Of the various cataclysms that 2012 may herald, the first significant one is the dissolution of the American state. In America, when we speak of "the state" we mean something like New Jersey. In Europe and elsewhere, it is the central government, including provincial and local governments. It is an entity or apparatus with a life of its own. For most of the history of the world, with very few exceptions, "the state" has been legitimized by gods and kings. As Louis XIV of France declared, "I am the state." Until the American Revolution, there was a wall of separation between government and its people.
Our American state is founded on the principle of "we the people" as the source of all legitimate authority. Its operation is exemplified by Abraham Lincoln's famous characterization of it in the Gettysburg Address: a government of, by and for the people. But who today believes our current government embodies these principles?
There is no government "of the people" because "we the people" can't afford to run for office. Candidates need personal fortunes, or else most will sell out to the special interests.
"For the people?" Only in a convoluted way. Almost 60 percent of all Americans get a substantial part of their income from government as workers, Social Security and SSI recipients, other pension beneficiaries and general assistance. The American state, as paymaster to so many people, has created a class of servants. Perhaps this is why the government has no fear to serve itself first. For example, Congress has its own retirement program, its own health benefits and other lifetime perks. The American state also spends billions on programs for corporate and other special interests, thus assuring its survival.
Worse yet, our government is now a "house divided against itself." It is clearly dysfunctional. Elections are an excuse to sow seeds of hatred and discontent. There is ubiquitous belief that government doesn't serve the public good and an overwhelming lack of confidence in Congress. Our state can save itself, but not its people. It cannot solve any of the complex problems we face, like crushing debt, health care, educational reform, immigration policy, failing infrastructure, poverty and underemployment.
When the general population has no faith or stake in the state, it will collapse.
Given the seething discontent, two major political issues related to the presidential election will act as flash-points signaling the reshaping and eventual demise of our current state. First is Geopolitics, whereby a candidate can dominantly win urban populations in a select number of states and become president. Also, a candidate may win the popular vote and yet not be president. The second is the coming call for the elimination of the Electoral College. Where we go from there is an open question.
Many believe that we can replace our American state with a global system of government that can solve our problems. This would only make matters worse, making what is complex impossibly so. Consider government debt. For a shocking analysis of U.S. and world debt, go to www.usdebtclock.org. Despite what propagandists say, these liabilities can't be paid off.
The easiest way out of our debt is to destroy it and U.S. sovereignty by merging it into a world super-state. After many trillions of wealth are destroyed by taxation, inflation and confiscation, and after much strife, a super-government run by a small number of elites will constitute a new state. There will be fewer liberties and fewer opportunities, but lots of gadgets.
But wait. America is still a government "by the people." We do have the power to change things, to create an alternate future. The tea party has made some significant moves in electing "new" people, albeit from only one party. Occupy Wall Street may yet provide an impetus for the emergence of new leaders -- perhaps even new parties.
We desperately need a different kind of leaders. Most current ones are living homages to a credo of wealth, power and fame. We need servant-leaders, people who prioritize service first. Such leaders prize humility, espouse a sense of community, of nurturing, even of healing. Such people do exist. Many more can be found/created.
Now that we are on the downward slope, can "we the people" reverse momentum? We have done it before.
Silvio Laccetti is a retired professor of history and social sciences at Stevens Tech and a national columnist. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org