Book Review: First Class Passengers on a Sinking Ship

But despite the fact that the US is experiencing coterminous threats to equality, democracy, and empire, and despite the fact that Lachmann believes that imperial decline is going to exacerbate inequality and democratic failure in the US, they are still distinct processes. (And indeed we might hope that Lachmann’s next book is about increasing inequality in the US and elite conflict theory!) So, while I think it is almost impossible for a reader to walk away from this book with much hope that US imperial decay is going to be reversed, there should — at least until Richards’ next book on inequality is published — still be some hope for a different societal trajectory.  The point that is truly hammered home in an entirely convincing way is that you do need elite-conflict theory to explain imperial decline. Lachmann does a brilliant job in showcasing just how inadequate previous theories of the end of empire have been. We seem to have settled for ‘it can’t go on forever’ as a major intellectual position on the issue. Here the book really shines new light on a very important topic and the central theoretical contribution is made. We have a breakdown of the four major elite fissures and thorough historical analysis to back it up. I have to admit, however, that I may prefer this interpretation since it gives me more intellectual distance from the depressing conclusions Lachmann ultimately reaches about the United States’ social trajectory. We may be in a sinking ship but I’m hoping we can still contribute to knowledge that might produce a different kind of craft. One that is hopefully more durable, more sustainable, more equitable, and hopefully even more enjoyable for all its passengers.