In 1945, the United Kingdom implemented a program of change at the hands of a new left wing government. The structure of support built up in previous decades, the way change was sold to the public, outcomes themselves have much to teach us about America's future.
To most Americans, the iconic image of British strength, resolve, and power is that of the cigar-chomping, bulldog-faced Winston Churchill defiantly growling "we shall never surrender" and "this is our finest hour" as Nazi bombs rained down on London every night during the summer of 1940.
Churchill almost single-handedly saved Britain from defeat at the hands of the Nazis, stepping up to become Prime Minister after Neville Chamberlain resigned in disgrace after diplomatic attempts to achieve "peace in our time" with Hitler proved folly.
But relatively few Americans may be aware that, despite his historic victory over one of the most evil regimes in history, Churchill was unceremoniously booted by British voters when his Conservative Party was defeated within weeks of Germany's surrender.
What followed marked the beginning of the end for the greatest empire since Rome.
The election of 1945 was a decisive victory for Britain's Labour Party. Labour gained 394 seats in the 640-seat House of Commons, named Clement Attlee as Prime Minister, and implemented historic changes in Britain, turning a once-great empire into a second-rate socialist welfare state in a span of 20 years.
The Labour government nationalized key industries in Britain, including rail, mining, air transport, utilities, and communications. Labour also created a "cradle-to-grave" welfare state and nationalized medicine with the creation of the National Health Service. Oppressive taxation was enacted to pay for the massive increase in government spending; by the 1970s income and estate taxes on the wealthy had skyrocketed to 80%.
In foreign policy, the Labour government engaged in wholesale decolonization, and the world is much worse off as a result. In 1947 British India was decolonized and partitioned into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The resulting chaos displaced 12 million refugees and caused a million deaths. Sixty years and several wars later the former colonies are nuclear-armed powers, still locked in chronic tension over control of the mountain region of Kashmir.
Burma, Ceylon, and the Palestinian Mandate were also decolonized in the immediate postwar period. Burma -- now Myanmar -- is home to one of the most repressive military dictatorships in the world. Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, is experiencing a decades-long guerrilla war, and the 60-year Arab-Israeli conflict in the former Palestinian Mandate knows no end. In subsequent decades, Britain also withdrew from East Africa, leaving in its wake the oppressive 30-year dictatorship of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe and a tribally-divided Kenya, recently wracked by election violence. Sudan, another former East African possession of the British Empire, is home to the ongoing genocide in Darfur.
By the 1960s, the Labour Party had overturned nearly all of the traditional aspects of a British culture that had been historically staid, stoic, and reserved. Prime Minister Harold Wilson's government decriminalized abortion and homosexuality, abolished capital punishment, and revised immigration laws to allow large numbers of Third World emigrants to Britain for the first time. Consequently, today's Britain is a land of social dysfunction, including high rates of drunkenness, property crime, welfare dependency, racial strife, promiscuity and irreligiosity. The illegitimate birth rate in the U.K. hit 50% in 2008, while a mere 10% of the population regularly attends church. Such behavior would have been unimaginable in prim Victorian society a century ago.
Although Britain's Conservatives managed to form governments in the postwar period, they were unable to fully reverse the changes implemented by Labour. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher did manage to lower tax rates and privatize some industries in the 1980s, but Conservatives never abolished the welfare state, the NHS, or reversed the social decline that had taken place in the postwar period.
The Britain that strode across the world as an economic and military colossus during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries - bringing technology, learning, literature, order, and an unprecedented creation of wealth -- was gone forever by the 1960s, its culture replaced by a trite and ephemeral trendiness epitomized by Beatlemania, punk rock, and "Cool Britannia."
The Ideological Clique Behind the Change
These changes did not take place by accident. They were planned by British cultural elites, particularly by members of the Fabian Society, who had worked for over a half-century to promote the policies finally implemented by Labour governments after 1945.
The Fabians advocated a gradual, democratic socialist takeover rather than violent revolution. Fabians sought control over more banal aspects of life -- transport, utilities, medicine -- that were far less threatening to the general public than the prospect of armed revolution.
The society was named after the Roman general Fabius Maximus, whose tactic was to wait for the ideal opportunity. The society's motto -- "For the right moment you must wait... but when the right moment comes you must strike hard" -- is eerily similar to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel's sentiment that "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste," because "crisis provides the opportunity for us to do things that [we] could not do before."
Fabian Society membership was a Who's Who of prewar British intellectuals, writers and artists who had rejected classical free-market economics, traditional religion, nationalism and imperialism. They included nerdy academic socialists like Harold Laski and G.D.H. Cole, as well as a motley collection of misfits, pacifists, deviants and utopian radicals.
The writer H.G. Wells, advocate of eugenics and a utopian global state, was a Fabian. Noted for his infidelity, he had an affair with the American eugenicist and founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. Playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw, an advocate of feminism, socialism, and vegetarianism, was a Fabian; he opposed British involvement in World War I but became an admirer of the USSR in the 1930s. "Sexologist" Havelock Ellis, who married a lesbian and was said to only become aroused when watching women urinate, was a member, as was Edward Carpenter, a vegan gay-rights activist and nudist. Economist John Maynard Keynes, whose theories influenced the policies of nearly all Western governments since the 1930s and are in vogue in the Obama administration today, was briefly a member.
The Fabian Society was disproportionately influential in the Labour government of 1945; though the Society numbered only several thousand, more than half of the Labour Party MPs were members. Nearly all leaders of the postwar Labour Party have been members, including Attlee, Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Neil Kinnock and Tony Blair.
Just as the Fabians influenced the Labour Party agenda, today's Democratic Party reflects the disproportionate influence of a clique of elite cultural and academic leftists now seeking to implement a socialist agenda they have been promoting since the 1960s. This agenda includes nationalized health care, taxpayer-funded abortion, federal control of education, gay marriage, openly-practicing homosexuals in the military, and much, much higher taxes.
Like the Fabian-influenced Labour government, the Obama administration has embarked on a course to "remake" America. The administration will effectively nationalize transportation and utilities through its "green energy" initiatives (indeed, Congresswoman Maxine Waters recently advocated nationalizing the oil industry) openly seeks to nationalize health care (the $787 billion "stimulus" bill includes billions of dollars to begin centralizing health care records) and is using the mortgage and banking crisis to effectively nationalize the financial services and banking sector.
In foreign policy, the Obama administration has announced a deadline to withdraw all combat troops from Iraq, and indicated a willingness to cease implementation of a missile-defense shield in Europe. Obama, who campaigned as a "citizen of the world" and effectively apologized to Middle Eastern audiences for the U.S. invasion of Iraq in his first televised interview as president, seeks to curtail American military hegemony and replace it with reliance upon global institutions such as the U.N.
On immigration, Obama and the Democratic Party support citizenship for 12 million mostly Spanish-speaking illegal aliens currently residing in the U.S.; such a plan would invariably allow those new citizens to sponsor even more non-English speaking family members to emigrate to the U.S.
The agenda of the American Left bears an uncomfortable similarity to that of the Fabian Society intellectuals that reshaped British society. If this agenda is successfully implemented by Barack Obama, the election of 2008 in the United States will be a watershed event, much like the British election of 1945.
But this analogy is not an optimistic one. If one wants to know what the United States will look like fifty years after Obama, one need only look at the fall of Britain from its imperial height in 1945 to the Britain of today -- a second-rate, secularized "nanny state" whose disarmed citizens are monitored by thousands of police cameras and whose police actively prosecute "hate crimes" and offenses against "multiculturalism."
Like Britain, the United States will almost certainly remain an important financial center and regional power several decades from now, but the center of global gravity will long since have shifted to the Chinese as the United States abandons it global dominance and becomes preoccupied with a liberal, postmodern, domestic agenda. It does not have to be this way -- the United States can still assert itself as global hegemon if it has the will to do so - but the successful implementation of the Obama agenda will assure that it does not.
If Obama achieves the goals articulated in his campaign, his presidency will surely mark the end of "the American Century" just as the election of 1945 signaled the end of Victorian and Edwardian British global dominance.