Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Hobbesian Decade?

This is how David Brooks thinks historians will remember this decade. Moreover, he argues that it feels like the 1970s because of the lack of confidence and because of the loss of faith in institutions.

I find Brooks' piece a little apocalyptic and hysterical. It makes more sense to me to view the '90s as the anomaly for their unusual quiet. I'm all for a cyclical view of history (why should Francis Fukuyama's linear/progressive view go unchallenged?); but, despite high gas prices and the awful return of bell-bottoms, it doesn't feel anywhere near like the 1970s, as Brooks claims. New Orleans aside, American cities are in much better shape now and infinitely less Hobbesian (if by Hobbesian, one means Hobbes' state of nature rather than his order-imposing Leviathan) than they were thirty years ago by almost any measure.

Actually, the reaction to the government's slow-footedness has been heartening. Brooks is right in a sense: people aren't standing for disorder and government incompetence. We're not going to stand for Newark or Watts anymore. But this is not necessarily as bad as Brooks makes it sound. We've been used to better for a long time now; we've seen our cities rebound, and we're shocked when we see what's been going on in New Orleans. That's good; we should be shocked. And, it should also be noted, the government has responded to the outrage. Although it stumbled at first, it's looking more and more like it has recovered.

On a longer-term policy note, Rich Lowry hopes for a "grand right-left bargain that includes greater attention to out-of-wedlock births from the Left in exchange for the Right’s support for more urban spending (anything is worth addressing the problem of fatherlessness)." Lowry's not holding his breath for such a bargain, but, after this, you never know....


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