Jonathan Chait and the Failure of Grown Up Liberalism

Jonathan Chait and the Failure of Grown Up Liberalism
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

At the dawning of the Cold War, a worried Arthur Schlesinger Jr. looked out on a bleak horizon. The Soviet Union was a threat, but Schlesinger concluded that the roots of the crisis ran much deeper. “Our lives are empty of belief,” he wrote in his 1949 book, The Vital Center. “They are lives of quiet desperation.” Figures he looked to for guidance—Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Camus—would become staples in the rhetoric of student protesters a generation later. So too would the concerns he dwelled upon: loss of community, feelings of powerlessness, a sense that politics had been drained of meaning. Even the poem he selected for his book's epigraph became a touchstone in the turbulent years to come: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

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