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Gratitude and the retribalization of the world

November 26th, 2009 - 7:17 am

Indeed. Or perhaps I should say “And yet . . .” As Claudia goes on to note, with all that success came a gnawing sense of unease, even guilt, which, I have noticed, is often not so much a matter of condign contrition about one’s failings or misdeeds as a sort of self-indulgent moral canker — ingratitude by proxy.

Yet with all that has come a sense of guilt and unease. Having led the way out of a 20th century afflicted with totalitarian ideologies and two world wars, America over the past decade has been reviled by many of its own elite for being “unilateral,” for overthrowing in Iraq one of the world’s worst tyrants, for leading a scientific and industrial revolution in which it produced more carbon dioxide per capita than Laos.

The big question before us is whether America will now bow, scrape, regulate and spend its way into decline. Columnist Charles Krauthammer, speaking in New York at the Manhattan Institute’s annual dinner in October wisely argued that decline is not an imminent destiny, but a choice.

I think Charles Krauthammer is right. Our place in the world is a matter of choice, not destiny. The question is whether we still posses the healthy, unencumbered, masculine candidness to recognize the stakes and distinguish firmly between good and evil.

At least, that is one question. At the moment, the choice is ours. But the world is quick changing kaleidoscope. It seems to be a human quirk — maybe it is part of the human instinct for survival — to suppose that the world tomorrow will, in most essentials, resemble the world today. No doubt in many cases, the supposition is justified. But a friend sent me this little animated dramatization about the fate of the British (and incidentally, the French and Spanish) Empire over the last couple centuries. It is, as he said, “utterly fascinating (and depressing).” What it depicts is, first, a journey or moral and material progress through the first couple decades of the twentieth century. It then shows the astonishing swift process of political disintegration that marks what we might call the retribalization of the world. And candid observer can see where it is tending. Which is all the more reason to be grateful for present blessings and stalwart about present and future challenges. You can be sure they will be exigent.

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