Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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Yesterday was also the anniversary of Winston Churchill's "We shall fight " speech, which is as good a reason as any to devote Book Review No. 12 to John Kelly's Never Surrender: Winston Churchill and Britain's Decision to Fight Nazi Germany in the Fateful Summer of 1940.  I've dealt with this epoch of history previously: the book is a recent contribution to the history loosely from Munich to the beginning of the Blitz.

One passage, somewhere early in the book. strikes me as relevant to our current politics.  It contrasts Winston Churchill's stance with that taken by the process-worshippers of Neville Chamberlain's government and the French high command.  Mr Churchill, the book suggests, called on Britons to summon the spirit of Agincourt and Trafalgar: the establishment of the era, offered a muddle that might or might not have worked out.

Let's view Virginia Postrel's recent America Is Awash in the Wrong Kinds of Stories in that light.
Sadly, the big stories competing for dominance today are demoralizing ones. They have more in common with the Lost Cause than with the New South or the Silk Road. One, told by the president of the United States, is that the country used to be great but allowed its greatness to be eroded by foreigners and cosmopolitan elites. It is that story, more than any specific policy agenda, that connects Donald Trump to authoritarian rulers — because it is with versions of that story that so many authoritarian regimes begin. The story of diabolical foreigners and perfidious fellow citizens is, at its core, a fable attacking liberal values. It misleadingly divides the nation into patriots and traitors, the latter defined as anyone who bucks the party line.

The competing left-wing story, against which many Trump voters reacted, isn’t much better. It portrays the American story as nothing more than a series of injustices in which every seeming accomplishment hides some terrible wrong and the country’s very existence is a crime against humanity. What begins as a valid historical corrective, like Landrieu’s speech, evolves into a corrosive nihilism. A culture cannot long survive self-hatred.
That's not wrong, and yet it might be too strong.  Perhaps Mr Trump was summoning the echoes of Valley Forge and Shiloh and Midway and the Ardennes, and Mrs Clinton was ... calling for more of the transnational muddle.  Certainly we can view Mr Obama's doubts about "American exceptionalism" in that light.

Sometimes the circumstances call for a rogue elephant (a line that frequently comes up with respect to Mr Churchill.)  But are those circumstances germane to ours?

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: european, history, politics, war

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