On Not Giving Up

I've been too sour and too Beltway lately. This reader is right:

While I appreciate and share your sour mood, especially given the present administration’s present willingness to legitimize the crimes of the former one, you really do need to lay off the “late imperial”-Spenglerian decline-world-historical-fate stuff.

Three reasons: First, it’s probably not true that US society has entered into some kind of end-stage moral decrepitude. The political elite has been more corrupt, the people at large more hateful, our foreign entanglements uglier (consider the 1890s, or 1920s), and we have bounced back. We have been freer than we are, less free, and less free after being freer.

Second, embracing the kind of theories in which each society flourishes, grows decadent, and then falls apart is not in keeping with your usual healthy skepticism in the political sphere. If we cannot count on every people to embrace liberal democracy when their GDP hits a certain level, then how can we expect the predictable decline of a country as complicated as the US based on some very general similarities to, I don’t know, the Ottomans?

But really, the main reason to put aside fatalism is the role such thinking plays in hastening the evils it predicts. Why should your readers demand accountability for the architects of the torture regime if the impunity of a cruel ruling clique is but a symptom of our inevitable demise? If all that is needed for evil to triumph is that good men do nothing, don’t describe the situation in a way that encourages one to do nothing.

Looking at the long-term fiscal crisis and then watching Washington carry on as normal can provoke cynicism and depression. It shouldn't. Obama is steering this very big ocean liner in a very rough gale inch by inch in a more positive direction. It's not my job to cheer-lead this; but nor is it my role to constantly deride it for its limitations and failures. Criticize? Yes. Deride? No. I'm still with him. I want him to succeed.