Jewish World Review December 11, 2013/ 8 Teves, 5774
Where we are now
By Paul Greenberg
A real crisis was looming, not the kind that today's headline-writers regularly invoke, and so devalue. ("Red Sox Face Pitching Crisis") No, this was a real crisis -- the Crisis of the House Divided, when the Union was about to be riven by the one issue that the country had failed to confront squarely year after year, decade after decade, compromise after unsatisfying compromise. At its heart lay the long accepted, deeply ingrained evil some Americans referred to as
The year was 1858, and all sensed that disunion threatened, with civil war in its train. A candidate for the
"If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it." --A.
Where are we now? What is the state of the Union as the year 2013 draws to a close? And whither are we tending?
There are those who assume that the future will be only a projection of present trends. Even sophisticated scholars have been known to make that mistake.
Consider an eloquent essay published in 1950. It was written by that exemplary teacher and critic of American literature,
Professor Trilling's conclusion was completely in accord with the tendency of American politics and culture at the time.
One can understand why the professor felt the liberal tide was not only running strong, but would prove irreversible.
But soon the pendulum would begin to swing back.
As the decade ebbed, an obscure ex-Communist named
Liberals reacted to
In the next presidential election, America turned to a respected old general with a beaming countenance but no panaceas to offer. He promised to end a stalemated war, bring us together again, stand by our allies and commitments around the world, and restore American confidence at home and abroad. He did. He would also preside over a decade that would see a rebirth of American conservative thought
On another intellectual front, that of the little magazines that used to be such a big influence,
American conservatism began to stir back to life in the Fifties. It seems
American politics and American thought in general have gone through many another revolution since then -- if by revolution we use the word in its original sense: a complete turn of the wheel as it comes back to its original position. Today it is liberalism that begins to seem devoid of ideas, or at least new ones. And of energy. If there is a single word to sum up liberalism's condition today, it is entropy.
The misadventures of Obamacare day after day would seem to exemplify a political philosophy that is fast losing traction. By now it would be a mercy if the whole, misconceived scheme would wear out all at once and disappear in a puff of smoke, like
As it grows weaker, liberalism resorts to shows of strength. A president who's supposed to be a liberal resorts to changing laws by executive fiat instead of seeking the consent of the governed. The liberal majority in the
Like any other failing ideology, liberalism turns to authoritarian measures as it loses its power to persuade. Conservatives carp and criticize, but have yet to rejuvenate the great ideas that would offer a convincing alternative to the country's sense of drift.
That is where we are now, conservatives and liberals, and whither we are tending.
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