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Ed Driscoll

Backward Ran the Progress Until Reeled the Mind

July 17th, 2011 - 8:07 pm

One of these quotes is not like the other:

“Can you afford to be a man from Main Street? Civilization moves forward on a thousand fronts,—business, art, politics, science, religion. You have only to ignore it, and you slip back again centuries in time. But can you afford to live in the dark ages?”

– 1920s-era Time magazine pitch to initial subscribers, as quoted by Alan Brinkley in The Publisher, his 2010 biography of Time founder Henry Luce.

Luce moved toward a set of ideas that created an obvious, uncontroversial view of the postwar world that almost no one could oppose. It began with two simple questions. The first: “Does the American nation exist for any particular purpose?” The answer, he argued, “rises in your hearts” and makes clear that “the American nation does exist for a Instead of building a coherent vision of the future, Luce moved toward a set of ideas that created an obvious, uncontroversial view of the postwar world that almost no one could oppose. It began with two simple questions. The first: “Does the American nation exist for any particular purpose?” The answer, he argued, “rises in your hearts” and makes clear that “the American nation does exist for a specific purpose—in the words of the Battle Hymn: ‘To make men free.’” The second, more prosaic but equally important to Luce: “What, then, is the post-war TIME?” His answer was more complex but essentially the same. Time Inc.’s mission was “to explain about American journalism and in doing that we have to explain about America.” Explaining America, Luce came to believe, was remarkably simple.

If we had to choose one word out of the whole vocabulary of human experience to associate with America—surely it would not be hard to choose the word. For surely the word is Freedom…. Without Freedom, America is untranslatable…. And therefore it seems to me that we can sum up the whole of editorial attitudes and principles in the one word Freedom.

– From a 1943 memo from Luce to his editors on how his goals for Time magazine in the postwar world, also quoted by Brinkley.

But this isn’t about facts or even light bulbs. It’s about ideology, a hardcore ideology holding that the government should not be able to install simple standards on public products for public aims if they in any way infringe on an individual’s right to choose. It’s an ideology that in its purest sense has no place in a world of 7 billion people, where we will inevitably run up against the limits of this planet. It’s not about the rights of business, or even what’s best for our economy, which would only benefit from less energy waste. It’s about taking away our ability to collectively chart a better course through a hotter, more crowded and scarcer world—and make no mistake, these choices have to be made collectively, as a country and a society. The world is too small for any other path…

[W]e’re all affected by the decision of some to be wasteful of energy, whether through national security (think of the trillions spend on the Middle East), pollution and of course, climate change. In a bigger world, maybe that didn’t matter—but that’s not a world that we live in anymore. If we take away government and society’s tools to even attempt to respond to a world of limits in a collective fashion, I’m not sure how we’ll survive. The very least thing we can do is start with a better light bulb.

Time magazine, “Why Fighting Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Is So Stupid,” July 15, 2011.

“The American dream that they were living was no longer the dream as advertised. They feared that they were beginning to lose their grip on the country. Others seemed to be taking over—the liberals, the radicals, the defiant young, a communications industry that they often believed was lying to them.”

“The Middle Americans,” Time’s Man of the Year, January 5th, 1970.

(H/T: Hot Air.)

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