From the Editor

John Turner

On Book TV yesterday, I saw a talk from Charlottesville, Virginia, filmed on May 19th, by Morris Berman, who was speaking about his new book: Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire. Mr. Berman's message is stark and pessimistic. American culture, he thinks, has entered a stage of decay which cannot be reversed. Americans are so ignorant, and so selfish, they cannot step away from the practices that are causing most of the rest of the world to oppose us. It is not just George Bush, and not just the Republicans, and not just closed-minded religion. It is, rather, we ourselves, and who, over the course of our history we have become, that is causing our downfall.

In a country where optimism is seen as a sacred principle this ought to be upsetting. And doubtless it is, to some. But Berman seems to be getting a positive, nearly cheery, response from others. Several people in his audience said it is such a relief to hear someone trying to speak the truth that the darkness of the message didn't much signify.

Berman, himself, claims to be an optimist, of sorts. He believes in the promise of the human spirit. But he sees nothing in the American spirit that offers hope for the future. He wishes it weren't so, but as far as he can tell, it is, and his loyalty to truth far outweighs his loyalty to America.

He raises -- completely aside from the accuracy of his predictions -- an interesting point. How many Americans would put their loyalty to humanity and to the truth ahead of their loyalty to their country? Most, of course, would argue that there is no conflict between the two. But, if there were, how would they come down? It's as much as to ask whether patriotism is a sacred duty?

Americans haven't been in the habit of asking themselves such fundamental questions. But, I suspect we are entering a time when they will be forced, more and more, on our attention.

I hope we, here at the Harvard Square Commentary, can deal honestly with questions of that ilk. Willingness to face fundamentals forthrightly is a test that sets one commentator above another. It's encouraging to think we might find a way to pass that test.

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