READ MYRON MAGNET’S THOUGHTFUL PIECE.
No one captures the tragic paradox of culture more poignantly than the twentieth century’s greatest poet, William Butler Yeats, who came away from the carnage of World War I fearing that we humans “are but weasels fighting in a hole”:
Civilisation is hooped together, brought
Under a rule, under the semblance of peace
By manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,
And he, despite his terror, cannot cease
Ravening through century after century,
Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may come
Into the desolation of reality:
Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and goodbye, Rome!
As our own civilization ravens and uproots, only to come into the desolation of false and lying illusion, so far more farce than tragedy, that’s my worry, too. Watching the hard-eyed troops surge by in Communist China’s 70th anniversary parade in October, the rank upon rank of fit young men and women toting high-tech weaponry and marching with eager determination, as if treading down all before them, it was hard not to wonder how we’d fare if we ever had to fight them, given President Xi Jinping’s undisguised imperial designs. As I watched, I couldn’t help remembering the 2016 photos of American sailors kneeling in humiliated submission on the deck of their U.S. Navy patrol vessel, which they had allowed diminutive Iranian gunboats to seize without firing a single shot in the Persian Gulf. Did they not believe, had they not been taught, that they had anything worth defending?
Myron Magnet, City Journal’s Editor-at-Large, is a National Humanities Medal laureate.