As the new millennium draws near, we in the United States are suffering from a dearth of millennial ideas. Supply-side economics, multiculturalism, cold fusion, caller I.D.--all these Promethean schemes for transforming the human condition have lately come to naught. In their wake, small ideas and incremental thinking hold sway. Yet the popular appetite for visionary conceits remains strong. Has Hillary Clinton not struck a chord with her "politics of meaning," especially when she calls for the "remaking of the American way of politics, government, indeed life"?
Politics is the art of achieving political goals — of achieving what is possible in a given situation, that is, in a situation that has its conditions and its limits. In this respect, the ethical point of view, the consideration of what is good and what is bad, what is fair and what is unfair, what is honest and what is dishonest, is external to politics. An ethical action, like an unethical action, is usually analyzed by politicians purely in pragmatic terms. Does it lead toward the goal or does it lead away from it? Montaigne observed, in his famous polemic against Machiavelli, that if a pol
As we write, the first news of the apparent collapse of the Moscow coup of August 19 has arrived. We still cannot know how this extraordinary and rattling event will play out in the next few days; who its beneficiaries will be; who, among the military, the KGB, and the Party apparatus, will emerge as the central conspirators. What we do know, however, is that, like a bee that stings one last time before it expires, this putsch is the final spasm of a system that is coming steadily (or, rather, unsteadily) closer to extinction.
PRAGUE The enormous mass movement that has essentially overthrown Czechoslovak communism rose up with amazing speed. By the last week in November millions of people had participated in demonstrations across the country. Yet as recently as October 28--Czechoslovakia’s independence day--dissidents could bring only 10,000 people into the streets. These brave souls had scarcely unfurled their pro-democracy banners before truncheon-wielding police were chasing them through Prague's winding Gothic lanes. Three weeks later throngs of hundreds of thousands of people were routine in Wenceslas Square.
“Did you see the gas vans?” Claude Lanzmann asks Mrs. Michelsohn, an old German woman, in his film Shoah. Mrs. Michelsohn lived in Chelmno, 50 yards from the spot where Jews were loaded onto the vans at the Nazi extermination center. “No,” she answers at first, with a look of annoyance. Then her face registers the recognition that Lanzmann and his movie cameras will not be deflected. “Yes,” she acknowledges, she saw the vans, “from the outside. They shuttled back and forth. I never looked inside; I didn’t see the Jews in them.
Budapest—On the banks of the Danube, it is quite natural to ask whether the idea of Central Europe has been just a whim of a few intellectuals, or acquires now a new significance thanks to the aspirations for democracy that have been reawakened in many countries. The simple fact is that our perspective, whether we are Poles or Hungarians or Yugoslavs, is different from the perspective of Western Europeans, Russians, or Americans.