In life, Nelson Mandela was admired; in death, he is venerated. As time passes, his life story is evolving from hagiography to beatification. There is something to admire in a man who stood by his convictions and altered the course of history by destroying the hateful apartheid institution. But the Mandela story has been so sanitized, it has lost any relationship to the truth.
The dreams of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister of Turkey, for the recrudescence of the Ottoman Empire are evaporating under the Istanbul sky. His party The Justice and Development party (AKP), is in disarray; a major corruption and bribery scandal has led to accusations about cabinet members and their families. The investigation prompted Erdogan to say “The judiciary will pay.”
The world stage is trembling with emerging challenges, challenges so deep and potentially fracturing that the globe may never be the same again. This is 1789, 1848, 1917 and 1941 wrapped in one momentous year. Wherever one turns, chaos reigns and, in large part, this dislocation is due to a United States’ reluctant to play its post-World War II role as the “great equalizer.” From the Middle East to the Far East, from London to the Levant, U.S. withdrawal physically and emotionally is having a profound influence on diplomatic calculations.
I often find myself in the odd position of addressing the question “why are the humanities disappearing?” In most instances my interrogators assume I will say something about the desire for vocational training in an environment where jobs are scarce. Clearly that is an answer, but a partial and unreflective response.
The negotiations over Iran’s potential nuclear weapons arsenal has pushed all other foreign policy issues out of the headlines. But as Washington muses about Iran, one of the boldest attempts to challenge the U.S. as a Pacific power has occurred with very little commentary.
Alan Wolfe, the professor of political science at Boston College, has written a reprise of Richard Hofstadter’s 1965 book Paranoid Style In American Politics for the October 25th edition of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Hofstadter in the 1950’s attempted to explain the inner workings of the political mind, i.e., the conservative mind. For Hofstadter, conservative positions that are based on repealing laws instead of passing them are signs of paranoia.
There was a time not so long ago when I could select my own doctor. There was a time when I could choose my health insurance company. There was a time when everyone believed Marxism was a failure, an idea relegated to the ash heap of history. There was a time when class warfare occurred in other places far away, but Americans believed in opportunity, not sponging from others.
It has become fashionable among the cognoscenti to distinguish between Islam and Islamism. In fact, the Quilliam Foundation, focused on religious freedom, has promoted the distinction along with many quite reputable analysts of Islamic behavior. Presumably the latter believes in the imposition of faith over society by violence or law; while the former rejects violence conducting itself as any other religion might. This distinction has a hopeful ring to it since one may embrace the faith and abandon the ideology, thereby stabilizing presently unstable societies.
It has been argued in several of the intellectual journals in the West, that the aspiration for freedom is a universal goal, that most societies admire the freedoms we enjoy and wish to emulate us. As I see it, this proposition is one of the more pernicious illusions we entertain.
Here is a question that haunts America today. The distinguished historian Samuel Huntington has an answer based on founding documents and a national creed. But the answer of a decade ago seems weak, almost feckless, in a nation transformed by demography, educational inadequacy and historical amnesia. I readily admit this “new nation” is a new nation I don’t understand and am at a loss to describe. But try I will in any case.