Ethics & Public Policy Center

Good Morning, Patrick!

Published in National Review Online on November 28, 2007



The man who authored The Death of the West has now turned his considerable spirit of despair to America. Patrick J. Buchanan has written Day of Reckoning: How Hubris, Ideology, and Greed Are Tearing America Apart.

According to excerpts posted on The Drudge Report Monday, Buchanan writes, “America is coming apart, decomposing, and …. The likelihood of her survival as one nation … is improbable…” He adds, “America is in an existential crisis from which the nation may not survive.” Our culture is collapsing, according to Buchanan, and we face a perfect storm of crises.

Pat Buchanan makes Oswald Spengler look like Pollyanna.

As it happens, my Ethics and Public Policy Center colleague, Yuval Levin, and I have an essay in the current issue of Commentary, “Crime, Drugs, Welfare — and Other Good News,” in which we cite progress on a range of issues, including crime, drug use, welfare dependency, abortion, divorce, education, and teen births, sexual activity, drinking, and smoking. In some areas, like crime and welfare, the progress has the dimensions of a sea change.

In fact, a few days ago we learned (courtesy of the New York Times) that New York City is on track to have fewer than 500 homicides this year, by far the lowest number in a 12-month period since reliable police department statistics became available in 1963. And with roughly half of the killings analyzed, only 35 were found to be committed by strangers. If this trend continues, it will mean that fewer than 100 homicide victims this year will have been done by strangers — a staggering statistic in a city of more than 8.2 million. As a reference point, in 1990, 2,245 homicides were committed in New York City.

The reason for this broad reversal of fortunes seems to involve a mix of public policies, a new sobriety, and cultural re-norming. We have not reached the Cultural Promised Land by any means — but we are in remarkably better shape than we were. And this ought to be a source of encouragement rather than a moment to usher in the Apocalypse.

We have heard predictions of doom and dark days since the founding of this Republic. John Adams expressed doubt about the duration of “our vast American Empire.” So did Whittaker Chambers, who believed that in siding with the United States against the Soviet Union he was joining the “losing side.” In his 1948 book Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver began this way: “This is another book about the dissolution of the West.” And in the first sentence of his 1983 book How Democracies Perish, Jean Francois Revel wrote that “democracy may, after all, turn out to have been a historical accident, a brief parenthesis that is closing before our eyes.”

Freedom contained the seeds of its own destruction. Liberty inevitably gives way to license. We simply could not summon the spirit to resist and prevail against the challenges of our time. Or so the arguments have gone. Yet we have found, time after time, that liberty, while not without its drawbacks, is the most reliable path to human excellence, prosperity, and progress. Liberty is the natural condition in which human beings flourish.

And then there is America itself. Those who in the past have been ready to write off the United States as deeply corrupt and on the path to national suicide have been reminded by events that ours is a remarkable and resilient nation.

We Americans should never underestimate our problems, which can be considerable and are often of our own making. I am one who, in the early 1990s, was deeply worried about America's cultural slide and wondered if we had the inner resources to reverse it. But having witnessed the social indicators revival of the last 15 years — due in good measure to the efforts and insights of public intellectuals and policy makers like William J. Bennett, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and Charles Murray — I will be far less quick than I once was to overlook our history, our achievements, and our capacity for renewal. They remain, like America itself, a wonder of the world.

Peter Wehner, former deputy assistant to the president, is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

 

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