At the Crossroads

Not long ago, Mr. Theodore White, connoisseur of presidential elections, crafted a well reasoned, though intellectually prefabricated, article for the New York Times Magazine. His was a solid analysis of this country’s shifting political geology: some major social forces are in the process of crystallizing into defined political powers, moved by ideas which would aspire to “sharpen” the notion of equality—the prime component of America’s ethos. Blacks and women will soon constitute—according to Mr. White—powerful blocks of concen­trated social and political efforts that will translate themselves into new electoral realities. Correctly, even astutely, Mr. White observed that these exertions will promote a new element in the American political geography, namely a potential to fight not only for group interests but for the entire system of group values. This practice, Mr. White was keen enough to notice, may generate a funda­mental conflict between the newly promoted, particular group values and the traditional, time-honored notions of equality of the kind which form the bedrock of the entire Western democra­tic civilization and whose triumph in America was essential to the origin of interest groups in the first place.

This was as far as Mr. White went in his exploration of the new social phenomena. What he failed to mine are the more profound and more disturbing implications of his findings. The frag­mentation he describes is not only sociopolitical but, above all, moral and cultural in its nature; it may even have an eschatological dimension. What is ultimately at stake is our future as a nation. Modern nations are com­munities with a sense of common tradi­tion, destiny, and system of existential and moral values. If a nation allows separate, alternate, or autonomous systems of values to evolve within its body, it ceases to be a nation and be­ comes a society—an organism unable to survive in larger stretches of history. In the past, the formative substances of a nation derived from commonly shared perceptions of ethnic homogeneity, or religious beliefs, or acquisitive instincts nurtured by feelings of tribal superiority. America, of course, in spite of all its inherent centrifugal forces, is still a nation—as she wished to be since her inception. She evolved the most modem norms of a commonwealth, that is, a functional body of laws, tradition, and conventions; she possesses the most advanced tabernacle and holy scroll which endow her with an exemplary nationhood envied by other polities. It is an ideological nation, conceived in the name of common faith and a vision of future that transcended the immediate and coalesced into a historical ideal. Up to now, when blacks and women sought an improvement of condition, every­thing was acceptable. Once they wish to superimpose their particular code of values over the hitherto generally accepted nomos and ethos, we are in a danger of becoming a society—at a time when statehoods without nationhoods can no longer survive on this planet. Once black and feminist tenets become more important than, or prevail over, American tenets in individual con­sciences, we all are lost. However, fortunately, reading Mr. White, one soon notices that he, in fact, deals in synthetic summaries. And once we realize that both among blacks and women there still exist a plentitude of thinking individuals, things do not look so gloomy.


Little Ado About Something

The United States Information Agencya government outfit that’s appeared under various names and which is little known for either the originality of its ideas or for its bureaucratic lightness of touchcame up with another poky script for a new School for Scandal, D.C.-style. Allegedly, it con­cocted a proscription list of people who should not represent this country’s amalgamated genius and savvy abroad because of their ideological untrust­worthiness. The list, as it was furiously propelled by the liberal press into the national awareness, is, in fact, an exercise in the bizarre. What James Schlesinger, David Brinkley, and Stansfield Turner did to get on it, we will never understand. However, the mere fact that a Federal agency of conservative adminis­tration is reluctant to send out into the world Messrs. Ralph Nader, Allen Gins­berg, or Tom Wicker as spokesmen for America’s sociopolitical concerns should not be surprising. Delegating Mr. Walter Cronkite, our telegenic sweet­heart (the man who recently found Orwellian big brotherism in American technology but failed to notice it in the Soviet power structure), as a standard bearer of American intellectual potential could be seen, in some European coun­tries, as a parody—certainly not a field of creativity for our government’s pro­paganda arm. The fact that Prof. J. K. Galbraith, Mrs. Coretta Scott King, and Ms. Betty Friedan are viewed with unwillingness by Reagan’s USIA people should be put into proper perspective by a simple question: Were Prof. Milton Friedman, Phyllis Schlafly, Irving Kristol, Russell Kirk, James Burnham ever asked by the Kennedy, Johnson, and Carter information agencies to represent American mind and principles in foreign countries? (For that matter, Nixon’s and Ford’s agencies were not much better: some men on the very top have changed, but their operating staff called all their wisdom from the New York Times-Ivy League-Time-CBS axis as ever before.) Certainly, American pluralism suffers, but it was not Reagan’s people who began to gnaw and nibble at its living flesh.