George Packer, a staff writer at the New Yorker, in a blog post that nails our historical moment with perfect pitch, is something that should be read in its entirety. It can be found here. Below are two quotes from it. The first is George Packer’s observation on the consequences of 9/11 to the jewel of the Anglo-French Enlightenment, which is reason:
Nine years later, the main fact of our lives is the overwhelming force of unreason. Evidence, knowledge, argument, proportionality, nuance, complexity, and the other indispensable tools of the liberal mind don’t stand a chance these days against the actual image of a mob burning an effigy, or the imagined image of a man burning a mound of books. Reason tries in its patient, level-headed way to explain, to question, to weigh competing claims, but it can hardly make itself heard and soon gives up. A Florida preacher with a congregation barely twice the number of the September 11th hijackers can rivet the world—will he do it, or won’t he?
And here is George Packer on President Obama’s struggle, as a Jeffersonian and not a Herderian, to hold the center:
It turned out that the Bush rhetoric of religious understanding and freedom was a lot less potent and durable than the Bush policies. Our Wilsonian phase just took too much effort, required too much suspension of deeper, stronger feelings. And we are out of it now. In Wilsonian terms, we are around the year 1919 or 1920. The noble mission to make the world safe for democracy ended inconclusively, and its aftermath has curdled into an atmosphere more like that of the Palmer raids and the second coming of the Klan. This is why Obama seems less and less able to speak to and for our times. He’s the voice of reason incarnate, and maybe he’s too sane to be heard in either Jalalabad or Georgia. An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”
1919 or 1920. That’s also about the time that William Butler Yeats wrote his poem, “The Second Coming” (1921), the first stanza of which reads thus:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
The times are not smiling on people who want to keep talking. But I’m not giving up. I hope that you aren’t either.