From the Editor

John Turner

I'm aware that when I write a piece like the one for this week's From Liberty Street some readers will think I'm naively idealistic. Government, they will say, is by its nature corrupt.  It's silly to expect anything else from it. To this, I have two responses.

1. There are what might be called ordinary levels of corruption and then there are levels that have risen to extravagant heights. By the standards of U.S. history, the national government we've had since George Bush was elected president has been egregiously bad. We need to acknowledge that government behavior has careened far off the track we have, heretofore, been willing to follow.

2. Just because conditions have always been odious, it doesn't mean we have to continue with them forever. Presumably we have the ability to change our ways. We've done it in the past. The legal discriminations against black people that were normal when I was a child have now been rejected. And the arguments I once heard regularly, that black people had always occupied an inferior rank in society and, therefore, always would, are now viewed as disgusting racism. It is possible to reject a financial condition that confers excessive wealth on people who look with contempt upon the public welfare. All it takes is knowledge of what has happened and a desire to have an equitable economic system. So, why not argue for them?

It's a good thing to hope and work for a brighter, fairer, more merciful society. Of course, there will be disappointments . We won't be able to banish completely greed, bigotry, lust for power, stupidity, and hateful ambition. But I refuse to believe we can't reduce their influence and protect more lives from their vicious effects.

Readers who believe that the nature of society is rooted in the family might enjoy reading Esther Perel's Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and Domestic  along with Cristina Nehring's review of the book in the December Atlantic Monthly. The future of marriage will be a large topic in the coming decades and there will be many proposals that until now would have been considered fantastic. I don't think anyone can predict accurately what will happen, but those who try sometimes make for interesting reading.

I also call to your attention Richard Johnston's and Byron Shafer's The End of Southern Exceptionalism. The authors argue that economic interests have been more important than racial attitudes in causing the shift to Republicanism in the South. I think their thesis is overdrawn. Still, it's interesting and worth consideration.

I hope you are all settling in for a warm, comforting holiday season. We'll keep the Harvard Square Commentary coming throughout December. But who knows? Our own holiday activities may cause us to scale it back a bit.

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Harvard Square Commentary, December 11, 2006