A Reason for Optimism

About four years ago, I wrote a post called “The Reckoning.” In it, I put forward the idea that unsustainable economic trends in the United States would lead to the emergence of populist politics and demagogues.

In the conclusion, I suggested that this incipient “reckoning” was symptomatic of a cleavage between different generations’ perceptions of the world. Basically, (1) that the generation that grew up in the post-World War II era — which by definition is responsible for the state of the union — would be incapable of adapting to a world without American primacy; and, (2) that the generation coming of age in a period of entropy and uncertainty would be willing to take on the shibboleths that have impeded political progress.

I closed with the following: (more…)

The Discontinuities between the Generations in History

With free time scarce, I find that shorter books make for better books. And lecture series can make for the best books of all. 

Superb nap-time reading.

At 32 (small) pages, Sir Herbert Butterfield’s The Discontinuities between the Generations in History: Their Effect on the Transmission of Political Experience—delivered in 1971 as part of the Rede Lecture series—is a superb way to spend half an hour. (more…)

The Lies of Vietnam

Source: National Archives and Records Administration.
President Lyndon B. Johnson in Vietnam: With General William Westmoreland, Lieutenant General Nguyen Van Thieu, Prime Minister Nguyen Cao Ky (South Vietnam). Source: National Archives and Records Administration.

Rarely have accomplishments turned out so totally at variance with intended objectives. The war did not save South Vietnam, it did not deter future aggression, it did not enhance the credibility of United States commitments elsewhere in the world, it did not prevent recriminations at home …

The American defeat there grew out of assumptions derived quite logically from th[e] strategy [of “flexible response”]: that the defense of Southeast Asia was crucial to the maintenance of world order; that force could be applied in Vietnam with precision and discrimination; that the means existed to evaluate performance accurately; and that success would enhance American power, prestige, and credibility in the world. These assumptions in turn reflected a curiously myopic preoccupation with process—a disproportionate fascination with means at the expense of ends—so that a strategy designed to produce a precise correspondence between intentions and accomplishments in fact produced just the opposite.1

But there is an even profounder understanding of history … [that] recognizes that injustice flows from the same source from which justice comes … This indictment may be regarded not only as a shrewd expression of the moral ambiguity of all government, as both an instrument of, and a peril to justice; it is, more profoundly considered, a recognition of the basic paradox of history. It recognizes that the creative and destructive possibilities of human history are inextricably intermingled. The very power which organizes human society and establishes justice, also generates injustice by its preponderance of power.2

Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s The Vietnam War is extraordinary.

The immersive, 18-hour documentary captures the complexities, consequences, and emotions of the war, while placing today’s societal divisions in historical context. It mercilessly lays bare the unconscionable lies of U.S. statesmen and generals, and their betrayal of the country’s citizens, values, and decency.

You should watch it. (more…)

Father Joseph’s Folly

Father Joseph, a barefooted Capuchin monk, served as an advisor to Cardinal Richelieu. This pious man—who spent hours a day in orison contemplating Calvary, and who wrote poems about the Crusades betraying a deep sense of bloodlust—pushed for policies that led to the Thirty Years’ War and created the conditions for the World Wars in the twentieth century. Or so believes Aldous Huxley in his moral study of the mystic, Grey Eminence (1941). Not for everyone, but a thoughtful book for those who find the passages below of interest (quotes from the Carrol & Graf: 1985 edition). (more…)