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Truth

The Truth About Our Libertarian Age by Mark Lilla.

It is time, twenty-five years on, to discuss the cold war again. In the decade following the events of 1989, we spoke about little else. None of us anticipated the rapid breakup of the Soviet empire, or the equally quick return of Eastern Europe to constitutional democracy, or the shriveling of the revolutionary movements that Moscow had long supported. Faced with the unexpected, we engaged in some uncharacteristic big thinking. Is this the “end of history”? And “what’s left of the Left?” Then life moved on and our thinking became small again. Europe’s attention turned toward constructing an amorphous European Union; America’s attention turned toward political Islamism and the pipe dream of founding Arab democracies; and the world’s attention turned to Economics 101, our global Core Curriculum. And so, for these reasons and others, we forgot all about the cold war. Which seemed like a very good thing.

It was not. In truth, we have not thought nearly enough about the end of the cold war, and especially the intellectual vacuum that it left behind. If nothing else, the cold war focused the mind. The ideologies in conflict, whose lineages could be traced back two centuries, offered clear opposing views of political reality. Now that they are gone, one would expect things to be much clearer to us, but just the opposite seems true. Never since the end of World War II, and perhaps since the Russian Revolution, has political thinking in the West been so shallow and clueless. We all sense that ominous changes are taking place in our societies, and in other societies whose destinies will very much shape our own. Yet we lack adequate concepts or even a vocabulary for describing the world we find ourselves in. The connection between words and things has snapped. The end of ideology has not meant the lifting of clouds. It has brought a fog so thick that we can no longer read what is right before us. We find ourselves in an illegible age.

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