Conrad Black: The "End of History" was a Sobering Farce

Roundup: Historians' Take

Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom, Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, and, just released, A Matter of Principle. He can be reached at

...It is this seething, tottering, ear-splitting tower of Babel that now governs America. Following the greatest, most bloodless strategic victory in the history of the nation-state, when the Soviet Union disintegrated and international Communism collapsed without the chief protagonists’ ever having exchanged a shot, the quality of American leadership, in the public sector and in industry, academia, the media, and the bar and bench, has eroded and the greatest and wealthiest nation in history has become, in conventional parlance, insolvent, financing colossal federal deficits by a shell game of issuing Federal Reserve notes to the Treasury, its own parent, to buy federal-government bonds representing mountainous deficit spending with all the characteristics of money-supply increases. The administration has done absolutely nothing even to suggest a method of reducing these deficits in 40 months of profligate incumbency, and the Republicans haven’t done much better. They are stentorian choirs, the one shrieking no cuts in benefits and the other no increases in taxes. It is the most colossal and prolonged failure of American federal-government leadership since the decade before the Civil War. And as this crisis ripened and worsened and pullulated, the nation has been treated to a sequence of disputes of archeological inanity, from an argument over the circumstances of the president’s birth to the allegation that the Republican party is conducting a war on women, and is trying, in the words the New York Times’s ineffable Maureen Dowd, to wrestle American women “back into their chastity belts.”...

It is not as grave a state of affairs as obtained in the late Thirties, but has many similar characteristics. Almost all major countries are propelled by bad policies to inevitably bad ends; the United States was the exception then, Germany is now. There are not Satanically destructive figures at the head of great nations or factions, as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao were then, but nor is Angela Merkel capable of or interested in playing the role of Franklin D. Roosevelt — rallying the forces of democracy and social justice in the whole world, and leading resistance to aggression. Germany has neither the geopolitical weight nor moral authority of Roosevelt’s America, nor Frau Merkel the galvanizing magnetism of FDR, but in the thin gruel of the world’s principal current leaders, she is the best we have. Her people, ashamed of the belligerency of their forefathers, distracted by cranky old pacifists like Günter Grass, are in a liaison dangereuse with an absurd and wildly implausible Teutonic pacifism, but the leadership-thirsty world must take such guidance from ostensible authority as it can find, and the leaders of most of the other major countries don’t deserve an audience, and, fortunately, are not receiving much of one.

But also in the Thirties, there were voices of dissent in Britain and France (dissent was not possible in Germany, Italy, Japan, or the USSR), and Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle were available, when the call came, very late, to recover the martial aptitudes of olden time, rebuild their nationalities, and join Roosevelt and his successors in securing the victory of Western civilization. The U.S. Republicans may yet develop some of this in what seems at this point a close election. Merkel will hold Europe’s clay feet to the fire, and we are threatened only by our own lassitude, not by fire-breathing monsters at the head of hundreds of jack-booted divisions and huge air and submarine fleets, as we were 75 years ago. And the solution to our problems is just as obvious and not as grim as it was in the Thirties. But what was widely announced as the benign end of historical evolution, when the Iron Curtain came down, has become a dismal and sobering farce.

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