The Spirit of the Times

The Spirit of the Times

We live in a time of diminished expectations. It’s not exactly a time of conservative dominance, although the dominant politics in some countries is an unenthusiastic conservatism. Nor is it a time of liberal dominance, although in the United States the Clinton administration has given rise to some liberal hopes, by no means certain of realization. And it’s certainly not a time of leftist domination, even though moderate social democratic parties hold office in some European countries.

It’s tempting to compare this post–cold war moment to the postrevolutionary decades of early nineteenth-century England. But the comparison is of slight value, since what we are experiencing might better be called a postcounterrevolutionary moment. Idealistic visions, utopian hopes, desires for social renovation are all out of fashion—indeed, are regarded as dangerous illusions that set off memories of totalitarian disasters. Leftist bashing, in both newspaper editorials and learned books, is very much in. The current catchword is sobriety, which sometimes looks like a cover for depression.

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