Posts tagged American Civil War

A Fourth Turning: The Debt Ceiling and History

Like an ancient Greek tragedy in which the events play out unavoid­able tides of Fate, the debt limit “cri­sis” engi­neered by Repub­li­cans may be part of an inevitable pat­tern of his­tory. The world may dodge this par­tic­u­lar can­non ball, though as I write this on Sat­ur­day, that appears by no means cer­tain. (Late addi­tion: As of Sun­day night, there is a deal; but Con­gress has yet to act, and any­thing can still hap­pen.) Even if we sur­vive this threat, a few years from now, we may look back to see over­whelm­ing cat­a­stro­phe to have been bear­ing down on us like an avalanche.

More than a decade ago, social his­to­ri­ans William Strauss and Neil Howe assem­bled a fas­ci­nat­ing the­ory of cycli­cal trends, The Fourth Turn­ing: An Amer­i­can Prophecy: What the Cycles of His­tory Tell Us About America’s Next Ren­dezvous with Des­tiny. It’s a com­pelling read, and a heart stop­ping con­cept, breath­tak­ing in scope and explana­tory power. If they’re right, we’re on the cusp of dis­as­ter. That we are wit­ness­ing the worst eco­nomic down­turn in eighty years is no accident.

(Remem­ber that num­ber: eighty years.) (more…)

Gettysburg Same-​​Sex

Yes­ter­day, July 24, hun­dreds of same-​​sex cou­ples tied the knot in New York. Not coin­ci­den­tally, late last week, Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair­man Admi­ral Mike Mullen con­firmed that the U.S. mil­i­tary had met all needed con­di­tions for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law. As of last Fri­day, July 22, gays and les­bians may serve in the Amer­i­can armed forces with­out fear of being dis­charged because of their sex­ual orientation.

These two momen­tous changes are part of an ongo­ing rev­o­lu­tion in Amer­i­can soci­ety — or rather, they are part of the ongo­ing rev­o­lu­tion that is Amer­i­can soci­ety. Our nation exists as a nation because a group of colonists decided that peo­ple could rule them­selves, that the rulers of a nation did not have to be war­lords or hered­i­tary élites.

Walt Whitman’s favorite Pres­i­dent Sings the Body Electric

Peo­ple had never done this before, never con­sciously set out to cre­ate a nation, never imag­ined that the peo­ple of a nation could gov­ern them­selves. The idea had been a long time com­ing, with roots in Athen­ian democ­racy and in the British inter­nal revolt against King John that let to the Magna Carta. But these were mat­ters of mod­i­fy­ing exist­ing struc­tures, and even the mod­i­fi­ca­tions per­pet­u­ated the priv­i­lege of the classes who always had held power.

For America’s first cen­tury, much of the world looked on, uncon­vinced the exper­i­ment in self-​​governance could suc­ceed. Abra­ham Lin­coln explic­itly acknowl­edged this in Novem­ber of 1863 in his address at the bat­tle­field of Get­tys­burg. That was the essence of his speech, encap­su­lat­ing, in a mere two hun­dred sev­enty eight words, both the promise of our nation, and its beat­ing heart. “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this con­ti­nent, a new nation, con­ceived in Lib­erty, and ded­i­cated to the propo­si­tion that all men are cre­ated equal.” (more…)

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