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Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline 1st Edition

4.3 out of 5 stars 103 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1118061817
ISBN-10: 1118061810
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From the Inside Flap

During the final century of the Roman Empire, it was common for emperors to deny that their civilization was in decline. Only with the perspective of history can we see that the emperors were wrong, that the empire was failing, and that the Roman people were unwilling or unable to change their way of life before it was too late. The same, says Morris Berman, is true of twenty-first century America. The nation and its empire are in decline and nothing can be done to reverse their course. How did this come to be?

In Why America Failed, Berman examines the development of American culture from the earliest colonies to the present, shows that the seeds of the nation's "hustler" culture were sown from the very beginning, and reveals how the very tools that enabled the country's expansion have become the instruments of its demise.

At the center of Berman's argument is his assertion that hustling, materialism, and the pursuit of personal gain without regard for its effects on others have been powerful forces in American culture since the Pilgrims landed. He shows that even before the American Revolution, naked self-interest had replaced the common good as the primary social value in the colonies and that the creative power and destructive force of this idea gained irresistible momentum in the decades following the ratification of the Constitution. As invention proliferated and industry expanded, railroads, steamships, and telegraph wires quickened the frenetic pace of progress—or, as Berman calls it, the illusion of progress. An explosion of manufacturing whetted the nation's ravenous appetite for goods of all kinds and gave the hustling life its purpose—to acquire as many objects as possible prior to death

The reign of Wall Street and the 2008 financial meltdown are certainly the most visible examples today of the negative consequences of the pursuit of affluence. Berman, however, sees the manipulations of Goldman Sachs and others not as some kind of aberration, but as the logical endpoint of the hustler culture. The fact that Goldman and its ilk continue to thrive in the wake of the disaster they wrought simply proves that it is already too late: America is incapable of changing direction.

Many readers will take exception to much of Why America Failed—beginning, perhaps, with its title. But many more will read this provocative and insightful book and join Berman in making a long, hard reassessment of the nation, its goals, and its future.

From the Back Cover

Praise for

Why America Failed

"Morris Berman is one of our most prescient and important social and cultural critics. He marries a laser-like intelligence with a deep moral core. His writing is as lucid and crisp as it is insightful.His newest book, Why America Failed, rips open the dark and dying carcass of empire.His analysis is sobering and often depressing .But the truth at this stage in the game is depressing, very depressing. Those who refuse to face this truth because it is unpleasant, because it does not inspire happy thoughts or offer false hope, are in flight from the real. The collective retreat into self-delusion has transformed huge swaths of the American populace into a peculiar species of adult-children who live in a Peter Pan world of make believe where reality is never permitted to be an impediment to desire. It is too bad Berman, who sees and writes about all this with a stunning clarity, lives in Mexico.It gets lonely up here."

—Chris Hedges, author of Death of the Liberal Class and Empire of Illusion

"Morris Berman's masterpiece is a brutally honest, wonderfully crafted, exceptionally well-documented treatise on how America was spawned, several hundred years ago, to devour its offspring—financially, socially, and technologically. Why America Failed shines a harsh, unavoidable light upon the cunning business mindset at the core of America's creation, expansion, and devolution. Berman describes with stunning clarity how and why the 'hustler' mentality, upon which our country was predicated, eviscerated alternative moral or social doctrines, and thus incorporated the seeds of our self-destruction from its very inception. This book is as uncomfortable to read as it is impossible to miss."

—Nomi Prins, author of It Takes a Pillage and Other People's Money

"Morris Berman noticed that it's not morning in America anymore. His message may wake up the millions who are oversleeping while the late-day storm clouds gather over this land."

—James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency

"As the decline of America's empire becomes both starker and gradually evident, nothing is more important than accessible analyses of the causes of that decline. Far too few such works exist because of the taboos against writing them. All the more welcome then is Morris Berman's clear, bluntly but cogently written work. Sensitive to the contradictions of U.S. history and how they are now playing themselves out in a changed world, this book will challenge and provoke in all the best senses of those words. Genuinely important to read and to think about."

—Richard D. Wolff, Emeritus Professor of Economics,University of Massachusetts Amherst


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: John Wiley and Sons; 1 edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118061810
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118061817
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,855 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When the author of this work, Morris Berman, was once asked how he could go on living knowing what he did about the state of the United States, he responded that the truth makes him high. Many would-be readers of Why America Failed will be disquieted by the facts laid out in this book, but what is the alternative? Ignorance or delusion, it would seem, are the only other options. That choice will have to be left up to the individual. The truth, however, just like the hustling and accumulation Berman writes about, is addictive. And for those resolute enough to pursue it, is extremely rewarding, not to mention downright fun at times. Who among us does not know the euphoria felt upon grasping a hard sought answer or insight? These epiphanies of insightful smiles are many in Berman's latest book. He has the talent to present detailed analysis of profound intellectual study in a casual and accessible manner while still having fun and entertaining the reader. It is not often that you read a passage of incredible insight all the while chuckling at the delivery. Why America Failed is an impressive and entertaining work in this regard. My personal evidence is that I read this book in one day, and am at best an average speed reader. Some may find the high volume of quotations in this book distracting, but I have simply taken them as leads on additions to my ever-expanding "to read" list. The truth, after all, is addictive. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Morris Berman for being the pusher who turned me on to this high.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you have read the first two books of Morris Berman's trilogy (The Twilight of American Culture and Dark Ages America), Why America Failed reads like a kind of post-mortem. While the first two books survey the deplorable state of our culture in the present, Berman, in his third volume, takes a more historical view, in a forensic sense. What were the causes? What led to where we are now which is going nowhere fast? Why America Failed is a kind of "signing off." Not so distant future reporting of America's imperial decline can only be that of an unrecognizable dystopia: a politically crumbled and fractured Unites States into a collection of post'empire neo'fiefdoms.

Berman distills the dystopia down to its most elemental basis: defined and driven by the hustler mentality with technology as its delivery system.

Chapter Four, "The Rebuke of History," presents an unusual (to me, not an in-depth student of history) of the not commonly discussed causes of the American Civil War and how they shaped the "techno-hustler" culture which was to engulf the entire country and ultimately be our undoing, though its roots extend back to our beginnings.

Berman writes "In contrast to the zeal for money that characterized the North, the South was guided by ideals of honor, courage, amiability, and courtesy." This of course is recognizable everywhere in America today, right?

This is a diametrically opposed culture compared to the drive for material progress of the North. This was the essence of the clash: two different ways of life. Not just slavery, an abomination by any standards of course. Not just preservation of the Union (which was Lincoln's driving objective).
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Morris Berman's conclusion to his trilogy on America (Twilight of American Culture and Dark Ages America are the first two) penetrates even more deeply than the earlier books into the roots of our current national and cultural malaise. As another reviewer noted, Berman's book gives us much to reflect upon in connection with debates over the Occupy movement and the likely future of America. But unlike any other treatment of these issues I am familiar with, Berman looks into the historical and philosophical underpinnings of American decline and offers an unflinchingly honest assessment of how we got here. The answer Berman offers is as unsettling as it is persuasive: character is destiny. According to Berman, the American Dream has always been a twisted fantasy premised on a narcissistic Lockean individualism and an unquestioned faith in a notion of progress bound up with technological advancement, the dream of the techno- huckster. The book could probably also have been titled Why America Triumphed, as long as we keep in mind that in this case to triumph is a disaster and the dream was always destined to end in self-destruction. The world is flat because we flattened it. Berman also considers the case of the various "alternative visions" and internal criticisms of America's huckster culture, but concludes (again persuasively) that none of them really had a chance. I found the chapter on the Civil War to be particularly illuminating and powerful in this regard, as it forces us to reflect more deeply on what was lost there (the traditional agrarian culture of the South as an alternative to Northern hucksterism) as well as what was won (the end of slavery).Read more ›
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