America ranks ninth as one of the greatest empires in history based on total land controlled. She is also considered one of the top five greatest sea powers of all time. Not surprisingly, the United States is easily the wealthiest empire ever to exist.
America, after the collapse of the Soviets, became the only nation capable of extending its military power anywhere on the planet. Its massive spending on its military accounts for 41% of the world total! China is a very distant second with just over 8% of the world's total military spending, with Russia (4%) lagging far behind the U.S.
Glubb Pasha, in his book "The Fate of Empires," writes that world powers like America experience many similar cultural developments and life cycles in terms of their birth, expansion, rise to power, maturity and ultimately destiny of decline. In general, these seven stages in terms of "ages" are Pioneers, Conquests, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, Decadence and the final stage decline.
Stages of Empire
In the first few stages of an empire, its pioneers propel it to power as it expands its territory by conquest. Later, the materialistic values of business begin to assert their influence in the fourth and fifth stages (or ages) of empire building. Instead of acquiring more territory to expand their influence, world empires during this period build up their defensives. A good example of this would be China's Great Wall.
Wealth collected through conquest and investments by the business community make possible institutions of learning such as colleges and schools. The intellectual age of empires produces those who start to disbelieve and question the values of those who founded the very empire they live in!
Over time the elites of society and the people in general reject their founder's self-sacrificing values that helped create the empire. Moral decay begins to set in due to the morally corrosive affects of prosperity. The empire grows more and more weak, becoming less and less able to combat the destructive forces that work to bring it down.
In a fascinating book entitled "When the Empire Strikes Out" author William Goetz delineates some of the hallmark features and characteristics of empires that fall. Many of the characteristics showcase traits that powers like America possess and is a warning that a destiny of decline is being fulfilled.
The first few characteristics of a world empire that is in the process of falling is the erosion of sexual standards, the preference of people to live together rather than marry, and a growing rate of divorce (all of which America possesses). Birth rates decline and the killing of babies (today we call it abortion) increases due the size of families being limited.
One feature of a declining power, like that in America, is the influx of foreigners into the empire. The diversity they bring ultimately becomes a divisive issue in the culture. The spirit the apostle Paul discusses in 1Corinthians 15 also begins to take hold of a falling empire. He wrote, "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (verse 32).
When people in a society begin to give up trying to find solutions to life's difficulties they turn to time-wasting pleasures such as taking drugs, drinking alcohol, sex and entertainment that is ultimately mindless.
Another characteristic of an empire fulfilling its destiny of decline, which accurately describes the current state of culture in America, is that people idolize and look up to sports athletes, actors, etc. in spite of their (many times) messed up personal lives. This is in stark contrast to holding up as a role model the explorers and early pioneers that helped make the empire possible. For example, Pasha found in Baghdad, during the 10th century decline of the Arab Abbasid empire, that many writers complained of how singers were corrupting their youth!
One last major warning sign of decline, which has happened in America, occurs when the government provides expansive welfare programs for the poor. In the city of Rome, for example, the citizens were kept happy and distracted by government-sponsored bread and entertainment at the Colosseum ('bread and circuses'). Although helping the poor is part of being Christian, it can at times encourage people to be lazy and not work.
The Decline of America
The above evidence points to the inevitable conclusion that the destiny of America is one where she is in the declining phase of her power and empire. Some indicators, however, are not yet as bad as they have been in previous world powers that fell.
The ultimate question for believers in the Bible is how should Christians respond to the destiny of America? Believers living in declining empires should redouble their work in warning the world's nations (Matthew 24:14) about what will happen if they do not repent of their sins. Christians should also be wary of adopting, in their own lives, the negative beliefs and practices they warn others not to adopt.