Social philosopher Jacobs (Systems of Survivals, 1992, etc.) warns that the collapse of Western Civilization is in the cards, unless we start reshuffling our economic, cultural, and political decks with alacrity.
The author begins with some generous praise of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997), crediting him for the seed that sprouted into the flower of her thesis: Diamond explained why some cultures won and others lost, but he did not sufficiently explore the question of why some successful cultures collapse. (Diamond has been at work for some years on just such a book, as yet unpublished.) Jacobs argues that what she calls the “five pillars of our culture” are in jeopardy. These comprise families and communities, higher education, science and technology, taxes and governmental power, and, finally, the self-policing of learned professions. This seems a motley mix, but Jacobs can write, and so by the end her arguments and admonitions all appear persuasive and disquieting. She has the knack of looking with a fresh eye at a phenomenon we all think we understand (e.g., the collapse of the nuclear family, the decay of the modern city) and pointing out what few of us have noticed. She explains how the advent of the city bus as a replacement for the electric streetcar has fouled the air, clogged the streets, and sent maintenance costs (and thus transportation costs) soaring. Streetcars are much cheaper to buy and maintain—and they last three times longer, she says. She patiently explains economic concepts like “subsidarity” and “fiscal accountability” and shows how powerful central governments that collect large income taxes are sucking away from cities and other communities the resources they need to pay for transportation, health care, and education. But she also takes some powerful swipes at tax-cutting neocons: “The tax cuts’ chief benefit, as far as I can see, is the emotional satisfaction they bring to ideologues.” Jacobs advocates multi-use boulevards and chides us for cultural hubris.
Crisp, entertaining, scholarly, scary.