What has gone wrong with America? It's a question that many people are asking, but one approach is to look at what the present day America has lost. Its frontier. The frontier once defined America. It was the frontier that allowed English colonists to experiment with liberty. The march Westward, from the frontier settlements braving Indian raids to the Oregon trail, the Gold Rush and the Wild West, created a constant frontier for the country to rediscover what it means to be an American. The frontier kept America vital and as the frontier began to be lost, so did the spirit of America itself.
The Centralizing force marks the maturity and decline of the civilization. The Expansionistic force represents its youthful vitality and energy. A civilization that can transition from the Centralizing to the Expansionistic has another shot at life. A civilization that has no more frontiers will begin to fossilize into a great centralized mass that becomes unwieldy, decadent and eventually falls.
Where the Centralizing phase is marked by rigid government control, taboo breaking and cultural sophistication, the Expansionistic phase is marked by little government control, strong taboos and an emphasis on religion over culture. The Expansionistic phase mixes together cultures, but in the Centralizing phase, the existing culture is slowly replaced through migration from colonies and less developed parts of the world, drawn to the sophistication and wealth on display there.
This does not only apply to America, it applies equally well to Europe, and to global cultures dating back thousands of years. From the fall of Rome and several Greek city states to the decline and fall of Israel in the Second Temple period, to several Chinese dynasties and even to some degree modern day Japan. A nation without frontiers, only foreign colonies, is a nation without a future. As excess wealth concentrates in a handful of urban centers, decadence and corruption become endemic. The mores and values of the culture begin to implode. Sophistication begins to center on taboo breaking. Taxes increase, the size of government grows to unwieldy levels and foreigners increasingly push out the natives. By the time the actual collapse takes place, the society has already been a shell of itself for centuries.
The important thing to understand is that these two forces help balance out a civilization. The Expansionistic force creates a check on the Centralizing force. If the Centralizing force attempts to impose too much centralization, the frontier rebels against it. That for example is how America was born. Because the Expansionistic force is to some degree a push against the Centralizing force, the energy from these counter-opposing forces keeps a civilization active and vital.
The Centralized civilization needs the frontier, because without that it instead begins to push at cultural frontiers, breaking taboos and destroying its own value system. The youth who might otherwise seek their fortune in wilder and untamed lands, instead become a disruptive social force at home. The frontier might make men and women out of them, but the static homeland and its increasingly centralized authoritarianism instead redirects their freedom seeking into political and social radicalism. Because free cultural energy will always be harnessed, a problem to which the frontier provides a solution.
Without the frontier, there is no check to the Centralizing force which begins the process of contracting the society in on itself. Government becomes both outsized and corrupt. Domestic turmoil increases as government expands. The traditions that created respect for the political and social institutions are wiped away by the cultural turmoil, which increases the probability of coups and violent takeovers. This process feeds on itself until all semblance of civility and law have been lost, submerged beneath the competing aims of struggling factions.
In present day America, the gradual loss of the frontier, ended any real check on the Centralizing force. But it is incidentally telling that recent populist Republican Presidents like Roland Reagan and George W. Bush attempted to associate themselves with the cowboy culture and the frontier. And Sarah Palin, currently embodying the political spirit of Red State resistance comes from Alaska, the closest thing America still has to a frontier.
This goes all the way back to the start of the Republican party with Abraham Lincoln, billed as the quintessential frontier candidate, who ironically proved to be a centralizing figure instead. But as the Republican party has increasingly become the voice of opposition to the Centralizing force, at least on paper, its candidates and base of support have tended away from the centers of centralization. For the last 50 years, with the exception of the accidental Presidency of Gerald Ford, Republican Presidents have been West Coasters. And every Republican President in the last 78 years was either born or elected from California or Texas.
During that same period, with the exceptions of Bill Clinton and the accidental presidencies of Harry Truman and LBJ, Democratic Presidents have tended to be associated with centralized urban elites. Barack Obama is not the exception to the rule. He picks up on a pattern set by FDR and JFK. Both FDR and JFK attempted to use government centralization as a metaphor for the frontier. JFK did it literally with "The New Frontier". Of course there was no actual new frontier. What JFK meant was that government solutions were the New Frontier of mankind. This same rhetoric was exploited by Obama in his own run, with the addition of marketing his own rise to power as an act of taboo breaking that was appealing to a younger audience.
The Centralizing force is rooted in urban environments because it finds its own natural logic there. 10,000 people living in 1 mile need much more extensive government and can enjoy far fewer freedoms, than 100 people living in 1 mile. Population density breeds centralization. In turns centralization provides a network of services that increases population density. These services require a constant growth in personnel, which helps promote migration and population density. This is an example of how the Centralizing force acts to increase its own concentration, much as a black hole sucks matter inside it.
In the heavy urban environments where the Centralizing forces are based, interdependency seems perfectly natural. By contrast the Expansionistic force promotes independence and individualism, attitudes more typical of the frontier.
In a healthy civilization, the Centralizing force gives the Expansionistic force something to push against... and the Expansionistic force gives the Centralizing force new frontiers to manage and the imagination fuel to dream bigger dreams, instead of wallowing in its own cultural decadence. This Push and Pull process helped make America great, but the loss of a frontier has made the Centralizing force dominant in American government and culture.
And so the Centralizing force is creating a massive pile of government that cannot even afford to fund itself. The free cultural energy is being used to smash taboos, eliminating traditional values, while radicalizing politics. The pitched battle of Red States and Blue States is still weighed in many ways toward the Red States, because Americans are still more Main Street than Broadway, but given enough cultural influence and immigration that will change. As it has already changed dramatically over the last century.
America needs a new frontier. Not Kennedy's New Frontier of social justice, but a frontier where the Expansionistic force can redefine America again. Such frontiers are possible, some require technology, others imagination. But like most living things, America must grow or die. And while the Centralizing force offers a congealing cancerous growth in the middle, it is the Expansionistic force that America needs to revitalize itself once again.