Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why You Should Read Niebuhr

Instead of writing a piece of my own today, I'm going to encourage you to listen to or read the lecture given by Andrew Bacevich, linked to in last evening's post.   Here is such a powerful excerpt from what he said.

"No one sings odes to liberty as the final end of life with greater fervor than Americans," Niebuhr once observed. Yet it might also be said that no one shows less interest in discerning the true meaning of liberty than do Americans. Although I would not want to sell my countrymen short — the United States has in past demonstrated a remarkable ability to weather crises and recover from adversity — I see little evidence today of interest in undertaking a critical assessment of our way of life, which would necessarily entail something akin to a sweeping cultural reformation.

Certainly, President Bush will not promote such a self-assessment. Nor will any of the leading candidates vying to succeed him. The political elite, the governing class, the Washington Party — call it what you will — there is little likelihood of a Great Awakening starting from the top. We can only hope that before too many further catastrophes befall us fortuitous circumstances will bring about what Niebuhr referred to as "the ironic triumph of the wisdom of common sense over the foolishness of its wise men."

In the meantime, we should recall the warning with which Niebuhr concluded The Irony of American History. Should the United States perish, the prophet wrote, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.

Change each "would be" to "was" and you have an inscription well-suited for the memorial that will no doubt be erected one day in Washington honoring those who sacrificed their lives in Iraq.

I will note that the quotation he begins with in in Reinhold Niebuhr's book, The Irony of American History.  Bacevich used what Niebuhr said, during the Bush II years to foresee the nature of the presidential campaigns and one of the aspects of the Obama administration he couldn't have foreseen which would turn such promise into a pathetic mess.   Our politicians and their campaigns don't dare to tell the truth to the voters because TV and the media have so debased our thinking that we can't accept anything other than a narrative that ultimately idolizes the Unites States as a congratulatory myth and which makes the military sacrosanct instead of what an honest view of them and the morality of the tasks which they are assigned by the corporate leadership.  I say corporate because they aren't civilian anymore because their goals aren't civic goals but those of the corporate class which funds their careers, which they hope to join on their retirement.

Note, again, that when Andrew Bacevich talked about the memorial to those who sacrificed their lives in Iraq that will be erected in Washington, he knew his son's name could well be on that memorial.  The courage to state, so plainly, what the military was assigned to do in Iraq under those circumstances is worthy of the highest respect.

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