The PJ Tatler

Book Notes: Wise Man With Unusually Optimistic Outlook

Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.          

                                                                — Ronald Reagan

— Address to the annual meeting of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, March 30, 1961, when serving as host of General Electric Theater on CBS

The future California governor and President of the United States uttered those words exactly 51 years ago last Friday.

A large percentage of Americans believe we are now well on our way — especially if the incumbent is reelected — to becoming the very country about which Reagan warned in 1961.

The future of the United States looks grim to many.

Into all this understandable national gloom steps Georgetown University’s Professor Robert J. Lieber in Power and Willpower in the  American Future: Why The United States is Not Destined to DeclineAccording to the publisher’s description of the forthcoming book (available by pre-order now through Amazon:)

To argue against the widely proclaimed idea of American decline, as this book does, might seem a lonely task. After all, the problems are real and serious.

Yet if we take a longer view, much of the discourse about decline appears exaggerated,
hyperbolic, and ahistorical.

Why?

First, because of the deep underlying strengths of the United States. These include not
only size, population, demography, and resources, but also the scale and importance of its economy and financial markets, its scientific research and technology, its competitiveness, its military power, and its attractiveness to talented immigrants.

Second, there is the weight of history and of American exceptionalism.

Throughout its history, the United States has repeatedly faced and eventually overcome daunting challenges and crises. Contrary to a prevailing pessimism, there is nothing inevitable about American decline. Flexibility, adaptability, and the capacity for course correction provide the United States with a unique resilience that has proved invaluable in the past and will do so in the future. Ultimately, the ability to avoid serious decline is less a question of material factors than of policy, leadership, and political will.

Like many in the PJM community, Robert Lieber describes himself as a disaffected Democrat who has moved to the right — but unlike many, has not chosen to throw himself into the gale of gloom gusting through much of the commentariat and the blogosphere.

That’s because he’s studied both the minutiae and the broad trends in American history and sees the big picture.

The view from Robert J. Lieber’s perspective is broader, deeper and wiser. Of his previous book, the luminous Victor Davis Hanson wrote this (emphasis added):

Robert Lieber’s The American Era: Power and Strategy for the 21st Century is a brief but compelling review of American foreign policy over the last five years, and pretty much demolishes the idea that we are roundly hated or that we are culpable for various alleged sins. A sober and very readable account by a Georgetown University scholar whose intellectual integrity and knowledge shine through on every page.

As did Dr. Hanson, I, too, admired The American Era, and based on that extraordinary book, I predict Power and Willpower in the American Future will be an equally shining contribution to our understanding of America in the world.

Hardly a Pollyanna, the wise Professor Lieber looks to our history of overcoming staggering odds as well as our demographic richness to provide the basis of his wise optimism.

A writer of the clearest prose, his new book deserves a place at the top of the must-read list of everyone concerned about the nation we love so much and wish to save from the least wise, most feckless president in American history.