Long before “sustainable” became a buzzword, intellectuals wondered how long industrial society could survive. In “The Idea of Decline in Western History,” after surveying predictions from the mid-19th century until today, the historian Arthur Herman identifies two consistently dominant schools of thought.
The first school despairs because it foresees inevitable ruin. The second school is hopeful — but only because these intellectuals foresee ruin too, and can hardly wait for the decadent modern world to be replaced by one more to their liking. Every now and then someone comes along to note that society has failed to collapse and might go on prospering, but the notion is promptly dismissed in academia as happy talk from a simpleton. Predicting that the world will not end is also pretty good insurance against a prolonged stay on the best-seller list. Have you read Julian Simon’s “The State of Humanity”? Indur Goklany’s “The Improving State of the World”? Gregg Easterbrook’s“Sonic Boom”?