berlin wall

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in yesterday’s New York Times, Ross Douthat argues that, now free of any real external threat, western capitalism has definitively won, but doesn’t quite know it yet.

On the right, pundits and politicians have cultivated a persistent cold-war-style alarmism about our foreign enemies — Vladimir Putin one week, Hugo Chavez the next, Kim Jong-il the week after that.

On the left, there’s an enduring fascination with the pseudo-Marxist vision of global capitalism as an enormous Ponzi scheme, destined to be undone by peak oil, climate change, or the next financial bubble.

Meanwhile, our domestic politics are shot through with antitotalitarian obsessions, even as real totalitarianism recedes in history’s rear-view mirror. Plenty of liberals were convinced that a vote for George W. Bush was a vote for theocracy or fascism. Too many conservatives are persuaded that Barack Obama’s liberalism is a step removed from Leninism.

These paranoias suggest a civilization that’s afraid to reckon with its own apparent permanence.

Perhaps we should keep in mind that exaggerating threats can yield exaggerated responses…

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