By Edward B. Driscoll, Jr.
Everything about California – from its nickname (the Golden State) to its illustrious locales (Hollywood and Silicon Valley) and its lush vineyards (Napa Valley) – screams success. The state has been a bastion of American progress and a fertile field of dreams for much of its history.
Unfortunately for California, its past is history, its present is depressing and its future looks even bleaker. That is the message of “The Decline and Fall of California: From Decadence to Destruction,” the latest e-book from historian and PJ Media columnist Victor Davis Hanson.
A California native who still lives on 43 acres of his family’s farm, Hanson has witnessed that decline firsthand for decades. And his collection of 23 essays, originally published by PJ Media between January 2013 and July 2015, is part cry of despair (“Good night, once great state”) and part nostalgic tribute to “a wonderful world gone and now beneath our feet.”
The “energized chaos” of the new California, Hanson writes, “is sometimes exciting to experience in the flesh for brief moments but ultimately enervating for those residents who must scramble to survive it.”
Hanson blames the current state of affairs on the modern, elite liberals who controlled the levers of power in California throughout its decline. These “richerals” – a term he coined for rich, cool liberals who shelter themselves from the real world in a cocoon of wealth – reshaped the state to fit their vision of utopia.
All the while they used their clout to escape the effect of the high taxes and regulations they imposed on others, namely the middle class and people who settled away from the coast.
“California is run from a sort of Pacific Versailles, an isolated coastal compound of elite rulers physically cut off from its interior peasantry,” Hanson says.
The book begins with a 14-hour snapshot of the state through Hanson’s eyes. He wanders around his property, runs errands that expose him to the unpleasantness of bureaucracy and battles the heat without air-conditioning to save money.
Save for a concluding essay, the rest of the book is divided into three parts, each one focused on a topic that has played a role in California’s demise. The key issues Hanson identifies are: 1) counterproductive water regulations; 2) open-borders immigration policies; and 3) dramatic cultural changes that include the increasing size of the public workforce, the impact of agriculture and attitudes about crime.
All of it adds up to one big, destructive mess. “California is a tired idea,” Hanson says.
His six essays on water explore the reasons behind the four-year drought and the mandatory water restrictions it triggered this year. When 80 percent of Californians insist on living where 20 percent of the rain falls, and the state’s population keeps increasing, innovative men have to find ways to reroute water.
They did just that by starting to build an impressive network of reservoirs to store water for agriculture, use it for hydroelectric generation, prevent flooding and provide lake recreation. Then a bunch of liberals with delusions of environmental grandeur interrupted progress to protect every species but their fellow man.
“When you are rich,” Hanson writes, “you can afford for the first time in your life to favor a newt with spots on his toes over someone else that lacks your money, clout and sensitivities.”
In the next six essays, the author turns his attention to immigration. Hanson discusses high-profile criminal cases involving illegal aliens. He explodes self-serving liberal lies about the perceived benefits of open borders. And he condemns President Obama’s politically expedient signing of executive orders that he previously, and repeatedly, acknowledged were unconstitutional.
In one heartbreaking piece, he highlights the case of a 17-year-old girl from Oaxaca, Mexico, who allegedly murdered her infant after crossing the border. Two other essays criticize California’s “sanctuary cities” that embrace felons like Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who shot and killed 32-year-old Kate Steinle.
“Americans must grasp that each time a foreign national chooses not to apply for legal entrance but simply breaks federal law and crosses the border,” Hanson wrote, “that is the beginning, not the end, of an entire chain of events that so often does not end well for anyone.”
Hanson dedicates more space to culture (nine essays) than to the other two topics. Two of his passions – California and Western civilization – are evident in this section of the book, as he draws analogies between them.
The essay “Beautifully Medieval California” is a perfect example. Hanson starts by describing the divisive realities of medieval times – “a vast peasantry” oppressed by “an elite of clergy and lords” and virtually nonexistent middle class. Then comes the kicker: Today’s California is just like that.
The elites who live extravagantly along the coast have their own peasants – nannies, gardeners, maintenance workers and security guards. They account for one-sixth of the welfare recipients in America. The shrinking middle class, meanwhile, “drives on substandard roads to a job that does not quite pay for his once overpriced but now underwater house, or the most expensive and highly taxed gas in the nation.”
While “The Decline and Fall of California” paints a gloomy picture, Hanson’s love of his home state is clear. You can see it in his lament for the loss of the agrarian life he once knew.
“Rural life reminds us that we are mere custodians who don’t really own anything, given that the land endures as we turn to dust,” he says.
By the time they finish the book, readers will understand why the California dream has become a nightmare. But they may rush to pass the book along to people with the power to change course and prevent the fall that Hanson foresees.