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February 2013

These are ideas incarnate

by Daniel Asia

A review of The Transformational Decade: Snapshots of a Decade from 9/11 to the Obama Presidency by Herbert I. London

The book surveys the time between 9/11 and Obama’s election as president. But London’s real conceptual timeframe begins with the cultural revolution of the mid-Sixties and the long shadow it has cast over the past decade or so. London places the blame for the country’s current state of confusion on many of the usual candidates—diversity, multiculturalism, civil-rights leaders, obscenity (Is anything still thus categorized?). To these he adds additional culprits, such as childcare centers, the Internal Revenue Service, and protesters (who should be called thugs or criminals). I am particularly fond of his questioning of the word artist, which was at one time reserved for individuals of real merit. Now every pop performer of any genre is a “recording artist,” whereas the greatest classical performers and composers are barely even acknowledged. His point is simple: “that words are ideas incarnate. If words are used inaccurately, thoughts cannot be accurate.”

London decries the shift in political values whereby “rights” have been raised over responsibilities. A significant portion of the population doesn’t pay federal income tax but wants more services and benefits, which are, of course, its “right.” His disequilibrium and confusion over our present situation extend to first principles, namely equal protection under the law and the precepts of a Judeo-Christian society. The former has been whittled away by affirmative action, while the destruction of the traditional family—and of the mores that it supported and that supported it—threatens to undermine the latter.

As an antidote to these depredations, London suggests a return to basics and commonsense. Want to lose weight? Take in fewer calories than you expend. Education? Forget all the mumbo-jumbo of self-esteem and creativity, and get back to memorization, drills, maybe even reading books.

But the disease threatens to overwhelm any possible cure. London scorns the inability of Democrats and Republicans to cross the aisle for the public good in the areas of national security and the economy. In regards to the present danger of radical Islam, he doesn’t mince his words: “Lives are at stake, regional stability is in the mix, and civilization itself is in the balance. . . . The real scandal is that during these perilous times the parties should be working together despite their differences.” Journalism takes a big hit too. All journalism should be a search for the truth, but as it moves towards partisanship—or perhaps, more accurately stated, with the intrusion of politics—the journalistic enterprise is becoming ever more compromised.

As he arrives at the latter part of the decade, London’s temper worsens. His major concerns remain the same: the cynical approach to the war on terrorism and the radicalization of our domestic life. That this has been overlaid with apathy on both the Right and the Left leaves him morose and, in a word, scared. He finds such decadence, complacency, and pessimism reminiscent of Europe in the 1930s.

In a similar manner, our narcissistic elites are convinced that their subjective view of the world is what really matters. They assume that the United States is “invariably” wrong; believe in, and find everywhere, moral equivalence; and display that eternal sickness of Europe, anti-Semitism. Finally, they are incapable of finding anything unequivocally evil, which is a result of their moral obtuseness.

London is concerned that a people who were once resilient will become reliant on the State; that, as a result, personal liberty and responsibility will necessarily diminish; that, while we remain an exceptional nation, our future is threatened. Relentless criticism has produced a “spiritual enervation.” “The threats that the United States faces from a fanatical Islamic foe,” therefore, “are made possible by our devotion to positions that undermine our heritage, accomplishments, and founding.” London’s is not a pretty picture, but it is compellingly clear and well drawn.

Daniel Asia is a composer and a Professor of Composition at the University of Arizona.

more from this author

This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 31 February 2013, on page 65

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