Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline

Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline

4.5 2
by Morris Berman

Why America Failed shows how, from its birth as a nation of "hustlers" to its collapse as an empire, the tools of the country's expansion proved to be the instruments of its demise

Why America Failed is the third and most engaging volume of Morris Berman's trilogy on the decline of the American empire. In The Twilight of American Culture,


Why America Failed shows how, from its birth as a nation of "hustlers" to its collapse as an empire, the tools of the country's expansion proved to be the instruments of its demise

Why America Failed is the third and most engaging volume of Morris Berman's trilogy on the decline of the American empire. In The Twilight of American Culture, Berman examined the internal factors of that decline, showing that they were identical to those of Rome in its late-empire phase. In Dark Ages America, he explored the external factors—e.g., the fact that both empires were ultimately attacked from the outside—and the relationship between the events of 9/11 and the history of U.S. foreign policy.

  • In his most ambitious work to date, Berman looks at the "why" of it all
  • Probes America's commitment to economic liberalism and free enterprise stretching back to the late sixteenth century, and shows how this ideology, along with that of technological progress, rendered any alternative marginal to American history
  • Maintains, more than anything else, that this one-sided vision of the country's purpose finally did our nation in

Why America Failed is a controversial work, one that will shock, anger, and transform its readers. The book is a stimulating and provocative explanation of how we managed to wind up in our current situation: economically weak, politically passe, socially divided, and culturally adrift. It is a tour de force, a powerful conclusion to Berman's study of American imperial decline.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this provocative and passionate polemic, Berman (The Twilight of American Culture) explores America’s embrace of free market capitalism, which he says has been the dominant U.S. narrative since the country’s inception. Ever since the British touted the strategic advantages and lush bounty (timber, fish, furs) that England would gain by colonizing North America, an ever-expanding economy coupled with “endless technological innovation” has been our trademark, turning us into “a nation of hustlers” and marginalizing any alternative, such as Transcendentalism, the traditional Southern agrarian society, and the environmental movement of the 1970s. Berman takes to task the reign of Wall Street and the worship of technology, arguing that relentless consumerism has left us anxious, rudderless, and spiritually bereft. Although this is a lively and thought-provoking study of a complex topic, Berman sometimes presents a one-sided version of events—for instance, he links our high level of violent crime to selfish individualism, omitting evidence showing that crime rates have steadily declined in the past 15 years. Despite cherry-picking data, he presents his argument with verve and vivid examples. (Nov.)

Product Details

Publication date:
Edition description:
New Edition
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Distinguished cultural historian and social critic Morris Berman has spent many years exploring the corrosion of American society and the decline of the American empire. He is the author of the critically acclaimed works The Twilight of American Culture, a New York Times Book Revie w "Notable Book," and Dark Ages America.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Why America Failed 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
ladaysandnights More than 1 year ago
Why America Failed: The Roots of Imperial Decline-Morris Berman It took me awhile to get through this book, more because of its subject matter than its size. At 246 pages, it looks like a fairly quick read but do not be fooled; this is not light summer reading. This book is DENSE and well sourced; the endnotes are a solid 38 pages if you’re into that sort of thing, which I most certainly am. Published in 2012, Why America Failed seems to be the denouement to Morris Berman’s trilogy;the first two books are The Twilight of American Culture and Dark Ages America. I have not read those books, as I honestly think I couldn’t handle them. This particular book is a fairly brutal portrait recounting the origins of the United States as a nation and the mentality (psychopathy?) that led to its rise, and will lead to its inevitable fall. Fun stuff!! The main thesis of the book is that American culture is (and always has been) based on a “hustling” mentality. You know, the “I gots to get mine Jack” kind of thinking. Berman’s theory is that America’s “can-do, expansionist mentality” along with its addiction to technology and its narrow definition of progress as “strictly material” and “what is tangible” has created the perfect storm for imperial collapse. And that’s not such a hard sell really. Capitalism is the fuel that drives this country and capitalism is all about competition and bigger, better, more. There’s no need for me to rant about capitalism, but the “business of America” has always been the Business of America™. There was never a “City on a Hill” and in the end, bigger, better, more is not sustainable. What goes up must come down and you can’t go infinitely up when you’re planted on the ground. Berman makes the case that any historical push back towards this “hustling” lifestyle, any thought or show of an alternate style of living (less acquisitive, more family/community orientated, less competition more cooperation) has been scoffed at and marginalized. Berman believes wars have even been fought against more “traditional” styles of living, oftentimes wrapped in the guise of ridding the world of “communism” or “terrorism.” To illustrate his point, Berman uses the domestic example of the “clash of civilizations” that occurred between the North and South during the Civil War. Berman posits that the Southern way of life (before slavery ended) valued traits that were not conducive to the spread of northern capitalism, and were in fact a potential hindrance and threat to the spread of northern capitalism. It was this “threat” that served as one of the causes of the War Between the States. The theory could be discomforting to some, but only, I think, if you cling to some American mythology. No one ever wants to hear the South during slavery was anything but evil. I’m certainly not keen to wax poetic about the genteel south and it’s lost manners and priorities, but there is a point there. There was a lifestyle being led by people in this country in direct opposition to a fully capitalistic mechanistic society. And that way of life was destroyed, the bad and the good. In its place is where we find ourselves today. While the whole book was just one uncomfortable truth after another, it was Berman’s parting question to the reader that resonated: “If you are an American reading this, let me ask you: aren’t you tired of it all? The endless pressure and anxiety, the awful atmosphere at work (that’s if you can get work), the constant one-upsmanship that passes for friendship or social relations, the lack of community or of any meaningful connection with your neighbors.” For me, that was a wake-up call. As Americans, we want to believe that things in this country will get better. We want to believe that the halcyon days aren’t in the past, that we will once again be the world leaders in whatever makes a country a world leader. But I don’t know if that’s true. I think it’s apparent to most people that things don’t seem to be getting better in the U.S. Things don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. There are too many examples to enumerate here, but pick an institution and I can almost guarantee it’s crumbling. But who wants to be a Cassandra?! No one wants to be a harbinger of bad news, and I think we all want to believe that the country we grew up pledging allegiance to is still worthy of that allegiance. Ultimately, I think, the book serves as a warning. It asks us, as Americans, to take a hard look at this country and our lives within it, and to really think about whether or not it’s a culture we want for ourselves (and our children, if we have them.) Obviously for a lot of us, the devil we know is far less scary than the one we don’t, but I appreciate the author’s honesty and candid disdain for, what passes as, American culture. I may not 100% agree with him, but I heed his warnings and continue to look for jobs in Costa Rica.
Kumakichi More than 1 year ago
Morris Berman is a Luddite who has crafted a complex post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy that attributes all problems in American life to technology and progress which in turn resulted in a tradition swindling and hustling, which he believes were first established in colonization of North America in the 17th century. The financial collapse in 2008 provides him with abundant ammunition, and clearly, some criminal intent was present in the credit default swaps and other swindles perpetrated by Goldman-Sachs and other financial institutions. ,Even before 2008, however, there were problems that caused wage stagnation and massive accumulation of wealth by a small number of individuals. Corporate malfeasance was exemplified by the tobacco industry's attempt to suppress the scientific evidence linking carcinogenesis with smoking, and current the fossil fuel industry attempts to deny climate change in order to protect profits at the expense of the public welfare. While acknowledging that Unabomber Ted Kaczynski murdered or maimed several innocent people, Berman's main complaint is that in his manifesto Kaczynski's writing style is "sophomoric" and badly in need of an editor. The Anti-Bellum South, Berman asserts, was a truly genteel society that valued contemplation and honor completely unlike the ruthlessly aggressive North that steamrolled over everything in its way. While paying lip service to the fact slavery was abusive and immoral, he seems unable to appreciate that it was the exploitation of other human beings that enabled the anti-Bellum Southern gentlemen to pursue this life of relaxed contemplation that he so admires. Criticism is directed at Abraham Lincoln whom the author notes worked to improve transportation in his state, and thus a force for progress and technology. The author cites the reading a document on a computer monitor elevates dopamine, cortisol, and causes decreased ability to critically analyze. Worse still is multi-tasking which he believes results in impaired reasoning. In different chapters, Berman bemoans that thousands live alone, then seems to contradict himself by asserting that technology in the form of iPhone and iPads deprives people of solitude. Berman categorically rejects the idea that technology is a tool that can be used or misused: he regards technology and progress as essentially evil. Not surprisingly, Berman concludes that the situation in the US is hopeless and the country is doomed. The problems that currently grip the US are serious and may not be corrected in the fullness of time, but not even remotely the result of technological progress. Nowhere in his screed does Berman consider the long history of a uniquely American brand of anti-intellectualism and religious fundamentalism, the chronically substandard educational system, the bloated military budget, the over-extended imperium with at least 900 known bases in foreign countries and an unknown number of covert sites, and a non-functioning congress manipulated by lobbyists.
Pat_I_Am More than 1 year ago
why does this happen so often with the books I want and how can you honestly provide a link that lets readers request that the publisher make the book available as an e-book when it already is?????