Dr. Sowell’s Last Column

Sometimes idea synthesis comes from flashes of insight from others. Today, it was the combination of a Walter Russell Mead quote about European politics and the retirement column of Dr. Thomas Sowell. Mead noted this about European politics regarding Russia:
“The past 25 years of world politics have rested on a series of polite fictions, agreed-upon conventions and hypocritical pretenses…”

 Isn’t this a topical and salient commentary about half of America’s belief in soothing political myths, self-affirming lies, willful ignorance of threatening realities and smarmy politesse invoked to avoid actual honest debate? America has gone way beyond whistling past the graveyard, we now have a full-fledged Tournament of Roses Parade rolling past the cemetery replete with the USC Marching Band, majorettes and rousing John Phillip Sousa tunes.

Dr. Sowell’s final column is a reminder how a combination of these things, coupled with how fast the world can change, can combine to create a global conflagration as expansive and deadly as World War II. Dr. Sowell, referring to Churchill’s seminal tome on WWII, notes, “Europe’s attitudes and delusions — aimed at peace in the years before the Second World War — which instead ended up bringing on that most terrible war in all of human history.”

More to the point, I’ll let Churchill speak for himself – from page 80 of “The Gathering Storm”:

“Delight in smooth-sounding platitudes, refusal to face unpleasant facts, desire for popularity and electoral success irrespective of the vital interests of the State, genuine love of peace and pathetic belief that love can be its sole foundation … the strong and violent pacifism which at this time dominated the Labour-Socialist Party, the utter devotion of the Liberals to sentiment apart from reality … constituted a picture of British fatuity and fecklessness which, though devoid of guile, was not devoid of guilt, and, though free from wickedness or evil design, played a definite part in unleashing upon the world of horrors and miseries which even so far as they have unfolded, are already beyond comparison in human experience.”

Just like the little child who ignored all the filters and false constructs in the Hans Christian Andersen tale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, who immediately and sharply focused the crowd on reality by innocently blurting out “But he isn’t wearing anything at all!”, all it takes is one person willing to make reality impossible to ignore. History is filled with human animals all too willing to play a game of pretend until it no longer suits their purpose. Hitler was such an animal. Stalin was such an animal. Mao was as well. To a lesser extent, Fidel Castro was as well. It wasn’t so much the great fiction they created by themselves, although they all have that in common, these beasts came to power because the world created a Pollyannaish view of them as crusaders for the poor and downtrodden, egalitarians looking for peace and munificent and benevolent champions of their people.

Pax Americana has created an undeserved softness – from a prosperity perspective at the top, through the mindless pursuits of the middle class, and all the way to a relatively feathered welfare “safety net” at the bottom. Most Americans eschew thinking hard thoughts, and the few who do are ostracized.

We have lulled ourselves into a false security while padding our walls with dry, inflammable tinder constructed of the things we simply don’t want to talk about, much less think about.

It can happen again. All tinder needs is a spark. Men of vision like Winston Churchill knew that. Dr. Thomas Sowell knows it as well.

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