August 13, 2002

NEAL STEPHENSON AGAIN: Here’s a quote worth remembering:

The twentieth century was one in which limits on state power were removed in order to let the intellectuals run with the ball, and they screwed everything up and turned the century into an abattoir. . . . We Americans are the only ones who didn’t get creamed at some point during all of this. We are free and prosperous because we have inherited political and value systems fabricated by a particular set of eighteenth-century intellectuals who happened to get it right. But we have lost touch with those intellectuals.

I thought of it while reading this comment by Steven Chapman on the U.S. / European divide:

In fact, the “basic values and interests” of Europe and America diverged as long ago as the 18th century, and revolve around a fairly profound disagreement over the notion of liberty. I’m not going to go into that here (read Isaiah Berlin if you want the low-down on this), but this disagreement is at the root of the fact that neither fascism or socialism has been attractive to Americans (nor to a lesser extent the British), for example.

The Stephenson quote is from In the Beginning Was the Command Line, p. 53.

UPDATE: Here’s more on the European left and the war, consistent with the points above.

ANOTHER UPDATE: (From 2011): The Stephenson quote is wrong. Not in a way that changes the meaning, but still, accuracy is important. Follow the link for the correct version.

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