- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Dec 1996
From the book
WINTER COMES AGAIN
America feels like it's unraveling.
Though we live in an era of relative peace and comfort, we have sunk into a mood of pessimism about the long-term future, fearful that our superpower nation is somehow rotting from within.
Neither an epic victory over Communism nor an extended upswing of the business cycle can buoy our civic spirit. The Cold War and New Deal struggles are plainly over, but we are of no mind to bask in their successes. The America of today feels worse, in its fundamentals, than the one many of us remember from youth, a society presided over by those of supposedly lesser consciousness. Wherever we look, from L.A. to D.C., from Oklahoma City to Sun City, we see paths to a foreboding future. We perceive no greatness in our leaders, a new meanness in ourselves. Small wonder that each new election brings a new jolt, its aftermath a new disappointment.
Not long ago, America was more than the sum of its parts. Now, it is less. Around World War II, we were proud as a people but modest as individuals. Fewer than two people in ten said yes when asked "Are you a very important person?" Today, more than six in ten say yes to that question. Where we once thought ourselves collectively strong, we now regard ourselves as individually entitled.
Yet even while we exalt our own personal growth, we realize that millions of self-actualized persons don't add up to an actualized society. Popular trust in virtually every American institution--from businesses and governments to churches and newspapers--keeps falling to new lows. Public debts soar, the middle class shrinks, welfare dependencies deepen, and cultural wars worsen by the year. We now have the highest incarceration rate, and the lowest eligible-voter participation rates, of any major democracy. Statistics inform us that many adverse trends (crime, divorce, abortion, scholastic aptitudes) may have bottomed out, but we're not reassured.
Optimism still attaches to self, but no longer to family or community. Most Americans express more hope for their own prospects than for their children's--or the nation's. Parents widely fear that the American Dream, which was there (solidly) for their parents and still there (barely) for them, will not be there for their kids. Young householders are reaching their mid-thirties never having known a time when America seemed to be on the right track. Middle-aged people look at their thin savings accounts and slim-to-none pensions, scoff at an illusory Social Security trust fund, and try not to dwell on what a burden their old age could become. Seniors separate into their own Leisure World, recoiling at the lost virtue of youth while trying not to think about the future.
We perceive our civic challenge as some vast, insoluble Rubik's Cube. Behind each problem lies another problem that must be solved first, and behind that lies yet another, and another, ad infinitum. To fix crime we have to fix the family, but before we do that we have to fix welfare, and that means fixing our budget, and that means fixing our civic spirit, but we can't do that without fixing moral standards, and that means fixing schools and churches, and that means fixing the inner cities, and that's impossible unless we fix crime. There's no fulcrum on which to rest a policy lever. People of all ages sense that something huge will have to sweep across America before the gloom can be lifted but that's an awareness we suppress. As a nation, we're in deep denial.
While we grope for answers, we wonder if analysis may be crowding out our intuition. Like the anxious patient who takes 17 kinds of medicine while poring over his own CAT scan, we...
Praise for Generations:
"Generations is the most stimulating book on American history I have ever read." - Senator Al Gore
"Generations is a brilliant intellectual tour de force." - Speaker Newt Gingrich
"Generations might change the world as much as Darwin's Origin of Species." - Oakland Tribune
"A provocative, erudite, and engaging analysis of the rhythms of American life." - Newsweek