No Comment — February 20, 2009, 12:48 pm

The Liberal’s Lament

Leon Wieseltier’s book Kaddish was hauntingly beautiful, and his style often borders on the elegiac. Sometimes, though, he risks being smug, which considering his talents is both understandable and infuriating. His current piece in the New Republic reflects all of this. It strikes me as important, trenchant and timely, but also a bit too quick in the move to certain judgments. In any event, however, an essential read.

On the day that Clinton pragmatically announced that “the era of big government is over,” liberalism forgot itself. Pragmatism has a dark side. The allure of pragmatism was lost on the conservatives, of course. They sought power so that they could act on what they believed. And when they got their chance, they ran the republic down in almost all its aspects. We must not draw the wrong conclusion from the rubble. The problem was what they believed, not that they believed.

Of course Clinton’s embrace of aspects of the Reagan mantra was driven by pragmatism, and looking back from our current economic pit it does seem appropriate to call this a “dark side.” But Wieseltier forgets that the rejection of big, intrusive government was also a part of the American liberal mantra from the early age of the Republic–a part that seems to have gone lost around the time the Depression arrived and the modern commitment to experimentation arrived. And as for the self-described conservatives of the Bush team, the problem surely is what they believed—but also that it was a comic book version of the conservatism that has formed the American political culture.

Wieseltier is right to be concerned about the cheapness of the current political dialogue, especially on the conservative side. The tone of modern discourse lacks reflection; it’s demagogic, even violent—just the sort of talk which can destabilize a democracy in time of crisis. We are in a crisis. It should give rise to some deep introspection as to how we have come to this low point and how we can climb out of it. Those who brought us here in particular bear this moral obligation. And we see no evidence so far of any intention on their part to discharge it.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

From the April 2015 issue

Company Men

Torture, treachery, and the CIA

Six Questions October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm

The APA Grapples with Its Torture Demons: Six Questions for Nathaniel Raymond

Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.

No Comment, Six Questions June 4, 2014, 8:00 am

Uncovering the Cover Ups: Death Camp in Delta

Mark Denbeaux on the NCIS cover-up of three “suicides” at Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp

Get access to 164 years of
Harper’s for only $39.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

April 2015

The Joke

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Abolish High School

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Beat Reporter

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Going It Alone

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Rotten Ice

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Life After Guantánamo

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

[Browsings]
Photograph by the author
Article
Rotten Ice·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“When I asked if we were going to die, he smiled and said, ‘Imaqa.’ Maybe.”
Photograph © Kari Medig
Article
Life After Guantánamo·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“I’ve seen the hell and I’m still in the beginning of my life.”
Illustration by Caroline Gamon
Article
Going It Alone·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“The call to solitude is universal. It requires no cloister walls and no administrative bureaucracy, only the commitment to sit down and still ourselves to our particular aloneness.”
Photograph by Richard Misrach
Article
No Slant to the Sun·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“She didn’t speak the language, beyond “¿cuánto?” and “demasiado,” but that didn’t stop her. She wanted things. She wanted life, new experiences, a change in the routine.”
Photograph © Stuart Franklin/Magnum Photos

Acreage of a Christian nudist colony under development in Florida:

240

Florida’s wildlife officials decided to remove the manatee, which has a mild taste that readily adapts to recipes for beef, from the state’s endangered-species list.

A 64-year-old mother and her 44-year-old son were arrested for running a gang that stole more than $100,000 worth of toothbrushes from Publix, Walmart, Walgreens, and CVS stores in Florida.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Driving Mr. Albert

By

He could be one of a million beach-bound, black-socked Florida retirees, not the man who, by some odd happenstance of life, possesses the brain of Albert Einstein — literally cut it out of the dead scientist's head.

Subscribe Today