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Mr. Joseph F. Johnston, Jr. discusses how to rebuild the United States’ global standing

On Tuesday, September 29, 2020, Mr. Joseph F. Johnston, Jr. presented on his new book The Decline of Nations: Lessons for Strengthening America at Home and in the World.

About Mr. Johnston

Mr. Johnston graduated from Princeton University before receiving a master’s degree and law degree from Harvard University. He practiced law in New York City and Washington, D.C., was a visiting lecturer at the University of Virginia law school, and wrote The Limits of Government. He is a current member of the American Law Institute.

Historical Examples

Mr. Johnston began his presentation by stressing the importance of looking back at history to ensure that the United States does not make the same mistakes. He first discussed the framework of decline laid out by the 14th-century Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun, where societies that become wealthy often lose their values because of self-indulgence and irresponsibility. He traced this theme with the Roman Empire, which rose to prominence because of its strong military and political structure but decayed due to rapid expansion that harmed its borders, economy, and military.

According to Mr. Johnston, the British Empire’s success was due in large part to its strong navy and financial system. However, in the 19th and 20th centuries, British leaders moved away from free-market principles. Mr. Johnston believes that this shift ultimately played a role in the loss of its empire. The Roman and British examples given by Mr. Johnston demonstrate the importance of not overexpanding and ensuring that adequate resources are possessed before such expansion is undertaken.

Potential Causes of U.S. Decline

Mr. Johnston explained the importance of economic power concerning national defense. Problems facing the U.S. economy today are debt, an aging population, and the rising cost of social welfare. Mr. Johnston stressed the importance of prudently managing and pursuing U.S. national interests around the world. He asserted that the U.S. cannot be the world’s policeman; however, the U.S. needs a strong military for deterrence. The United States should monitor Chinese military investment to ensure that it is not surpassed in military might.

Mr. Johnston voiced concern over the de-emphasis of history and government study in higher education. He connected this neglect with how big government has taken over the constitutional republic, resulting in massive debt and the welfare state. This problem is reminiscent of the deterioration of the British Empire and the decline of contemporary Europe – the United States should not follow suit. To reverse this trend, Mr. Johnston called for an improvement in the education system because it is critical to forming the ideas of future generations. Other causes for concern are the loss of media credibility due to politicization, pessimism, and identity politics, and a shifting U.S. culture stemming from the decline of the family unit, drug addiction, and crime. If not properly combatted, Mr. Johnston believes that these issues could lead to the decline of the United States.

Is the U.S. in decline?

Mr. Johnston acknowledged that traditional values have given way to neo-modernist values but believes that fundamental reversion to civic and moral responsibilities will save the U.S. from decline. Similarly, he advocated for the return to republicanism, rather than mass democracy, by re-establishing limited government power.

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