A cloud of uncertainty and self-doubt now hovers over most serious discussion of the great public issues of the day. Lines which have long divided liberals from conservatives are breaking down. Noted historians, who once called for strong executive leadership, now express alarm over the Imperial Presidency. Philosophers, who in the 1950’s and 1960’s had viewed public servants as approximating a collective version of the good Samaritan, complain today of thousands of legislators at all levels passing 150,000 new laws annually and young bureaucrats issuing millions of enabling rules and regulations and applying them with little judgment to complex nationwide problems. The mass media, heralded as the bearers of an educational revolution, nightly bring encapsulated versions of the day’s events into everyone’s living rooms, generating oftentimes more confusion than light. The trivialization of public life is in part a product of the media’s drive for high ratings and in part the result of a major growth industry in the capitals of most major nations, the self-serving practitioner of government leaks. The media, the self-appointed purveyor of government secrets, and the investigative reporter interact and reinforce one another, sometimes, as with Watergate, serving the public interest but often flaking away the cement of public trust.
As a consequence, old hands in Washington look back with a certain nostalgia to that ancient stereotype of the stodgy and self-conscious aide clutching purported secrets to his bosom. A vast outpouring of “show and tell” manuscripts prepared in and out of jail continues to crowd the best-seller list and to spread doubt and distrust; the government memoranda prepared for a handful of responsible colleagues are increasingly treated as were the dispatches from China by foreign service officers during the era of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Public leaders hesitate to trust their confidences to immediate associates. The ultimate victims are decent, hard-working Americans, not strident spokesmen of the far right or far left, who on every hand are bringing under question government’s capacity to rule and businessmen’s ability honorably to manage the economy. Our wisest thinkers ask: what of mankind’s survival in an increasingly insecure and troubled world?
The profoundest, most lethal threat to any civilization, the British historian Arnold J. Toynbee wrote, arises from within that civilization, not from barbarians outside its boundaries. Inflation and popular distrust, single issue, special interest groups holding the balance of political power, and a wide profusion of intractable problems resisting solutions are combining to erode the shared goals and purposes that for two centuries have held the American community together. Twenty-five years ago it was the parsons, the philosophers, and a few historians who warned of a “Time of Troubles.” Today a similar note is being struck in corporate board rooms, union hiring halls, and in the nightly commentaries of the pundits. Friendly travelers to other lands discover that “the American problem” has become worldwide in scope, all too familiar east and west and north and south. Peoples who once had hope are being strangled by despair.
If societies around the world are becoming dispirited by their own combination of grave and unsettling problems, the first question to raise is how are we to diagnose the root causes of such problems. This question is greatly complicated by the fact that social observers have an impulse not merely to diagnose a condition but to change it. Indeed, within modern democratic societies, the movement of political and social scientists in and out of government has become a permanent part of the political landscape, prompting the British historian, Herbert Butterfield, to write: “Whenever I learn of another political scientist having moved into Whitehall or the White House, I have a particularly strong headache.” Evidently Butterfield’s indictment is less one of political scientists as such than of the tendency of men of thought generally to suffer shipwreck when they undertake to become men of action. Reinhold Niebuhr pointed to a related problem when he wrote: “If the democratic nations fail, their failure must be partly attributed to the faulty strategy of idealists who have too many illusions when they face realists who have too little conscience.”
Yet we have it on authority of the greatest of Western playwrights that “dreams are the stuff that life is made of.” Mankind has been propelled forward by bold visions and grand obsessions that when first propounded were folly to those who opposed them. The rub comes not with noble purposes but when illusions breed disillusionment. How are we to distinguish between visions that carry men forward and those that lead to disillusionment? In 20 years with a large private technical assistance agency, I recall a sense of dismay on hearing agricultural colleagues announce they were capable of turning a country’s agricultural production around. I found in these words a distressing air of pretentiousness. The saving grace for my colleagues was the state of the agricultural sciences, whereby the means could be made available for the attainment of outrageously ambitious goals. Not only were the techniques and tools at hand but the resources for financing them were abundant in the West (a consortium of donor agencies provides several hundred millions of dollars of assistance annually to international agricultural research centers around the world). The gulf I perceived looming up between the dreams of skilled outsiders who boasted of transforming an entire agricultural system and the stubborn realities of peasant cultures resistant to change was not as great as I had assumed. In other words, illusion was not so remote from reality that disillusionment was bound to follow.
It would be difficult to make similar claims for certain major illusions or myths which have recently dominated American and Western perspectives on public and foreign policy. Thoughtful observers have singled out at least six such illusions where expectations far exceeded reality. What is common to them all is that trends and tides appear to have gone too far. The first illusion concerns the role of executive or presidential leadership. In America, we are living with what my colleague, James S. Young, has called “the troubled presidency.” Professor Young has observed: “Once seen as a solution to problems, the centralization of power in the White House has come to be seen as a source of problems in society.” Some critics go even further and warn that society’s reaction to an unregulated political and economic order which threatened survival in the 1920’s has led to overcentralization in the 1970’s. It is self-evident that public disillusionment with executive power has not ended with Lyndon B: Johnson’s abdication or Richard Nixon’s overthrow. The “ritual destruction of the president” goes on from administration to administration. From administration to administration, the presidency has become the lightning rod of all of society’s discontent. Even friendly critics note a certain insufficiency in presidential capacity: too many unrealized and unrealizable public expectations; changes in the political process involving the decline of political parties and the phenomenon of television campaigning; the resurgence of congressional power after Watergate and the accompanying enlargement of congressional staffs; a sense of public boredom with presidential initiatives and widespread unease that the institutionalized presidency has grown larger than the whole of government in Washington’s or Jefferson’s time. The illusion of the imperial presidency has something to do with the disillusionment which has swept over public thinking on the presidency, leading Professor Young to call for the retrenching of presidential power in order to preserve it. . .winding down presidential government in order to save the presidency for the things only it can do . . .disregarding much of the rule-book written in the 1950’s and 1960’s that shows the president how to get power. . .disengaging the presidency from many of the problems that public expectations, campaign exigencies, news media pressures and the Washington establishment will demand that the president do something about. . .getting the presidency substantially out of the business of managing the executive branch: ceding large parts of that domain to Congress, courts and cabinets, but not ceding the president’s power to preempt or intervene when reasons of state require . . .and regaining the ability, within the presidency at least, to distinguish between true and pseudo-crises, real alarms and false ones, threats to the Republic and mere problems for the administration. In summary, Young and others are calling for statecraft based on a strategy of presidential self-restraint, less a strategy of an all-powerful and everywhere-visible American presidency.
A second illusion relates to the public’s trust in its leaders and institutions in both the public and private sector. More than two decades have passed since Walter Lippmann warned that democracies ran the risk of politicizing the private lives of their public leaders and privatizing their public lives. Ours has become an era of expose; the public appetite for being told that their leaders have feet of clay is apparently insatiable. Coupled with the public’s thirst for the inside story, the national pastime of cutting leaders and policies down to size has left us devoid of heroes and therefore of heroic policies. Spokesmen of the media tell of receiving a flood of often half-substantiated or unsubstantiated reports thrown up by public or private bureaucracies which cannot be ignored given network competition. On the side of the media, investigative reporting, which lies somewhere between yellow journalism and the most responsible analysis of great public issues, has moved to the pinnacle of contemporary journalism. Ironically, those waging campaigns within bureaucracies to add to or subtract from the stature of political or business leaders or defending or opposing policies through premature disclosure are also the reigning bureaucrats whose rules and regulations are laid down as standards for public and private conduct across an ever-widening spectrum of society. If the fourth estate has strayed beyond the boundaries of responsible journalism, self-interested allies within the bureaucracy have added fuel to a movement which began as the best means of informing the citizenry but has ended as a “whodunit” story. Is it any wonder that confusion has multiplied and trust has diminished in the public at large?
For those who have forgotten or were far removed from the debate of the late 1960’s, one far-reaching dimension of the process may have been forgotten. Significantly, the revolt against the Establishment then rested on the charge that the older generation was not following its own high-sounding standards. By the late 1970’s, the rebels of the 60’s whose political ideology then was to give the system one more chance had become regenerate rulers exercising considerable economic and political power at varying levels of authority. Is it possible that habits of criticism ingrained at a formative period in life for many young people have been carried over into the sphere of responsibility, much as leaders in the new nations who once pursued a politics of protest have later been required to engage in the politics of governance following their countries” independence? Just as the one transition has often been painful and perplexing for first generation leaders in the developing countries, so the other poses difficulties and moral and political dilemmas for young bureaucrats in the industrial countries.
The third illusion is related to the second. It involves the moral and political dilemma of the media. We are engaged, that most respected of network news anchormen, Walter Cronkite, has said, in the trivialization of public life. News encapsulated in 60-second fragments is hardly designed to educate the uninformed or to place an important story in context. Gone are the five-minute commentaries identified with Edward R. Murrow, Elmer Davis, or Eric Sevareid; the hardpressed public, however eager to make sense of complexity, receives pitifully little enlightenment from well-paid television correspondents.
The political process itself has contributed to a fourth illusion. American and Western societies have been held together historically by a vision of common interests. The rise of single issue groups, who are said to control up to 3 percent of the vote in crucial elections and who often comprise the swing vote nationally and locally, has transformed American politics. The decline of political parties has speeded this trend. The legacy of the late 1960’s has emphasized the rights and influence of special interests whose concerns had been neglected for generations: minorities, ethnic groups, and the underprivileged—the republic’s disinherited. It would be an exaggeration to claim that such interests had ever been fully reflected in historic definitions of the public interest. In the present era, their rights must be integrated into new formulations of national purpose. What threatens any definition of national unity is the assumption that the republic is nothing more than a congeries of special interests owing no allegiance to any definable notion of the common good. Winston S. Churchill warned fellow members of his Conservative opposition out of power in the 1950’s, “We are all party men defending party interests but above all we are defenders of the national interest.” The myth of the national interest was the primary interest, he concluded, even for party men.
A fifth illusion which has preoccupied Americans and, I presume, Europeans has been a belief in the easy harmony of interests and of the right solution to every practical problem. Today every developed country is plagued by apparently insoluble problems for which no simple agreed solution is at hand. Inflation no doubt is the most troublesome of all such problems, and a national consensus is lacking on its resolution. In the absence of consensus, national groups have reverted to a Hobbesian answer to economic problems: a war of each against all. Lacking confidence that agreed-upon common solutions could be reached, every economic group seeking its ends has felt free to gouge every other group. It may well have been illusory to suppose that what was good for labor was good for management. Too many solutions have been pursued that ignored the tangible loss which one group’s gain involved for all other groups. Yet in the absence of a viable myth or illusion of the common good and an understanding of the underlying purpose of the political process, everyone loses as spiraling inflation moves out of control.
The final illusion is one fraught with the most fatal consequences for all. Not one but all civilizations stand on the brink of mutual destruction in conflicts in which all are involved. World community and world government, which intellectual leaders proposed as the surest guarantee of world peace in the 1940’s, are apparently beyond the reach of existing sovereign states. In the absence of a dependable worldwide security system, each nation has pursued its security through the accumulation of national power. In the process, one nation’s security has become another’s insecurity; nations are caught up in what has been called the security-power dilemma. Collective security, which in the 1940’s and 1950’s had been viewed as an effective approach to peace, has broken down, and, in the words of a former secretary of state, nothing has been put in its place. Once more the gap between a noble illusion and present-day political realities has threatened survival, in this instance of all mankind.
If illusions beyond reach are a threat to human survival, despair also endangers mankind. Modern man, having lived with recurrent crises, has also learned to cope with a vast array of difficulties. International conflicts have taken the form of regional conflicts and limited wars. Societies new to international conflicts have demonstrated unexpected resiliency and an ability to contain localized disputes. Yet the threat of mutual annihilation persists, and an all-pervasive anxiety hangs over every policy decision. The shattering of cherished illusions and the absence of viable alternatives have left public leaders bereft of faith and troubled by doubt. Anxiety, which is a generalized form of fear and guilt over policies that appear to have failed, has overcome strong men and led to a certain malaise. Initiatives sometimes undertaken precipitously have added to self-doubt and magnified the sense of uncertainty. Despair has engulfed the citadels of power and a fortiori those standing outside and offering their criticism from the safe vantage point of freedom from responsibility.
The road back to renewed faith in leaders, institutions, and policies demands, first, that men and nations free themselves from the sense of powerlessness that has swept over leaders and followers alike. It is puzzling to account for the degree and extent of our unease. Because all the great choices appear to require collective action, the solitary individual resigns himself to the belief that because nothing works, nothing is possible, and therefore nothing matters. Public apathy and personal withdrawal are the result. Less than one-third of the electorate participated in the most recent election. Our most courageous leaders declare that human problems have outrun human resources and that within a crowded society in which all the once-promising approaches to public issues have failed, no one has responsibility for the general welfare. What follows is a cycle of sullen withdrawal by individuals, indecision and vacillation by leaders, and harsh judgment by critics—all reinforcing and feeding on one another.
The suspicion persists, however, even when studies of despair point to certain leading sources of unrest, that something more fundamental is involved. Child psychologists tell us that young people who have experienced little or no success fall into behavior patterns in which they choose to fail or are unable or unwilling to engage latent energies in the quest for success. Civilization’s noblest triumphs have come from those who persevered without the comforting illusion of omnipotence. Washington had no illusion that the 13 colonies were all-powerful or Churchill that the British possessed overwhelming military strength. Could it be that today’s leaders who earlier exaggerated national power or the uniqueness of America’s national purpose have not yet learned to live in a world where power is being redistributed? Are Western nations, as appears to be true of their chief executives, destined to pass through an era of retrenchment before they set out again to pursue bold new national and international goals? Are those who predict that the 1980’s will be a period of consolidation worldwide likely to be the best prophets? When and how and in what places will national leaders who enunciate national and international purposes inspire confidence and thus escape the criticism that stirring words today evoke only boredom in the public?
It may be that the advice of the Civil War general who counselled his troops “to elevate them sights a bit lower” would be helpful in public policy. There is a moral duty for a nation, as for a family, to establish priorities and bring its commitments and capacities into balance. Americans, as did Europeans before them in another era, may have to learn to live in a world in which their absolute monopoly of atomic power and supreme world leadership has been relatively short-lived. Yet the challenge may be greater and the rewards more enduring for Americans in regional and international cooperation than in the will-of-the-wisp illusion which an American publisher named “the American Century.”
Paradoxically, “the Time of Troubles” for Americans and Europeans could provide a breathing space for relearning forgotten lessons of politics and statecraft. One lesson may be that successful postwar foreign policies have not only rested on towering moral visions but on cooperation reflecting a convergence of national interests, the Marshall Plan being the classic example. Another lesson is that the founders of the American Republic, at least in their more reflective moments, never assumed that good public policy would mirror exclusively the interests of a single region, class, or group. Because they were widely read and deeply educated in the political classics, leaders such as Jefferson, Madison, and Washington understood the ancient tradition of moral reasoning which taught that political choice rested on a balancing of competing goods. In his classic work, The Moral Decision, the American legal philosopher Edmund Cahn observed that law and politics require choices not between right and wrong, but between two rights which cluster and compete and sometimes conflict. In the American constitutional system, the right to a fair trial competes with the right of the public to know through freedom of information. The Supreme Court has declared that freedom of speech does not give the individual a right to cry fire in a crowded theater. Human rights around the world as a goal of American foreign policy must be balanced against the goal of normalization of relations with China and the Soviet Union and that of maintaining secure allies in the Cold War. The quest for new friends in foreign relations must be balanced against the continuation of old and trustworthy alliances. Peace must be preserved through adequate arms and national power designed to restore international equilibrium and to turn down a spiraling arms race. Nations must seek to build a world based on an approximation of universal international relationships, always remembering that we live in a pluralist society of politically and culturally independent states. Within nation states, leaders must balance competing interests and claims, none of which can be ignored but no one of which can be fully satisfied. The political consequences of moral reasoning introduce both new possibilities and inescapable limitations about which leaders must speak to the public, as John F. Kennedy did when he observed that President Lincoln was sometimes overcome with sadness because he understood that in politics no one gains everything he wants.
Despair would also be less pervasive if we accepted the inevitability of tragedy. Politics for nations and individuals is suffused with both triumph and tragedy, but in recent years we have heard far more from our leaders of the former than the latter. Illusions would be less crippling and despair less far-reaching if leaders spoke more thoughtfully of the tragic element and less boastfully of vaunted victories and triumphs. The political and diplomatic process has its share of inescapable gains and losses. It is instructive to remember the wise counsel of George F. Kennan, who has observed that diplomatists who claim a victory in negotiations have destroyed the prospects of continuing the diplomatic process and of essential give and take. The political vulnerability of the negotiators of almost every sovereign state is such that following any diplomatic encounter they cannot return to their publics acknowledging defeat. What is true of diplomacy is no less true of national politics. All sides must have gains as well as losses, advances and concessions to bring back to their publics. It is noteworthy that the Carter administration achieved its most conspicuous foreign policy success through what Churchill would have called negotiations conducted at the summit in all their privacy and solemnity at Camp David, with a minimum of press releases and off-the-cuff public pronouncements of dramatic successes by one or the other of the parties. The ordinary citizen has only to ask himself what kind of resolution would be possible of deep-running disputes within the family, the school, or church if every provisional advance or fallback were tallied up on a public scoresheet for pundits to appraise.
It may well be also that world leadership is more likely to be achieved through the force of moral example than bold presidential proclamations. Unhappily, the full weight of the American example is oftentimes obscured by the strident and contentious debates which have become part of the ongoing political process. Minorities long neglected have achieved opportunities that a few brief years ago appeared permanently denied them. While the debate goes on and steps toward continuing group fulfillment and advancement are being pursued even in an era of retrenchment, the most vocal civil rights leaders acknowledge that substantial progress has been realized. Despite the alarms and doomsday pronouncements incessantly voiced about the state of the American economy, scores of large foreign investors continue to transfer their funds to the United States. The number of new jobs has multiplied each quarter, totaling three million in 1978, and new segments of the American population are annually joining the labor force in a period of democratization of opportunity without precedent in history. Equal opportunity in education is being pursued with more vigor and continuity than skeptics or the disadvantaged could ever have dreamed possible. Whatever an observer’s political persuasion, it is indisputable that a vast array of political and economic innovations, let alone far-reaching new scientific research, were carried forward in the 1970’s. Initiatives have been taken to meet the energy problem, stabilize the dollar, and fund local and national human resources programs without jeopardizing the economy. Although the adversary nature of the political process may conceal the tides of history working for good, historians in the year 2500 almost surely will point to profound social advances. Crime rates have dropped, and the underprivileged are beginning to take responsibility for their own destiny. America has been in the vanguard of a movement for national self-determination in which 100 new nations have become active participants in international society. American society is on the move far more dramatically and powerfully than the casual observer of national or international affairs, lacking foresight and a balanced perspective, can comprehend or appreciate.
Why then the despair? What is the cause of our present malaise and “the winter of our discontent”? I have suggested that national attitudes reflect deep-running tides or forces at work which have both rational and irrational components. Towering illusions and grand obsessions which guide the ship of state may carry societies toward a new channel course but may also leave them grounded on jagged shoals. No seasoned captain would dare to bring his ship into port by taking his bearings exclusively by the stars. He cannot afford to ignore local waters if he expects to bring his vessel safely to shore. It remains painfully true that American politics has as often been damaged by noble idealists as by cynical realists. Ends must be brought into balance with means, purposes with capacities, vision with prudence. Disillusionment and despair tend to follow illusions that have failed or appear to have failed, and history records a cyclical movement in politics: reform followed by retrenchment and by reform again. The amelioration of despair in a time of consolidation depends on keeping hope alive to prepare the way for a new era.
The ultimate test, of course, is how nations respond to the challenge of adversity. Having said that actions speak louder than words and that a nation’s example is the most powerful and important expression of its values, one must point to one other factor. What may be lacking in the United States and perhaps in all countries today is a public philosophy. Paradoxically, such a philosophy was more nearly at hand in the founding days of the Republic when concern for political ideas of lasting value reached new heights. Two elements were essential then and are indispensable now for such a philosophy: first, certain bedrock principles subject to continuous reexamination concerning the nature of man, of politics, of society, and the nation state, including its relationships with other nations; and second, soundly-based concepts of public interest and the common good which transcend parochial interests. An American senator has recently proclaimed that more fundamental than any public philosophy is a philosophy of the private sector, and he has proposed shouting from the housetops that America alone among states is “the party of freedom.” Significantly, the debate over freedom and the debate over states” rights and national interest was one that was subsumed within a far broader discussion of the public interest by men such as Jefferson and Madison. It would be tragic if Western thought should settle for two philosophies—one public and the other private, one national and one local or particular—when their interests are inextricably joined. Undergirding them both and at a far deeper level must be fundamental philosophical principles that have universal meaning and application. The principles of a public philosophy must be addressed to man’s nature—neither wholly good nor irreparablv evil but capable both of profound good will and harsh and demonic cruelty. They must deal with man’s noblest ends and his narrowest self-interest. Such principles must speak both to individual and collective interests, balancing them in diverse ways to meet specific needs and discovering some wider framework for ordering the two. They must deal with the rational and irrational without assuming categorically that one has taken the place of the other for all time simply because men are better educated, more prosperous, or shielded from the harsh threats of nature.
No one can say from whence such a public philosophy will come or, if it should be produced, who will embrace it. Earlier efforts, including some in our own day by our most respected leaders and thinkers, have been unsuccessful and abortive. The absence of a widely accepted and viable public philosophy suggests the awesome magnitude and dimensions of the task. What can be affirmed and staunchly defended is that without a public philosophy, every advance or retreat or success or failure by every public or private leader will be challenged and disputed; it will be interpreted outside the unifying framework that can give it meaning. We shall have no basis for judging great public efforts or worthy private enterprise if we lack a conception of man and society and of where society should be tending in the late 20th century. Instead all of us, and not least professional observers, will be reduced to hasty judgments, partisan political opinion, and oversimplified evaluations which interpret public affairs from a narrow calculus of personal victories or defeats. The grandeur of a dialogue about the common purpose of civilized men fashioned through wisdom and sacrifice over the centuries will disappear from public discourse. The pressures of noble goals in tension with practical necessity will be lost, and politics will lack its timeless expositors and clarifying voices. We are in trouble today because no one seems capable of helping us to see our problems in their broader historical and philosophical context.
The journalist, Meg Greenfield, writing about the American debate over SALT and the language in which it is being joined, has warned that complex technical jargon has taken the place of straightforward political argument. The heart of the issue, she maintains, is political not scientific: “how each side can protect its arsenal in a way that will deter the other from attack or even from pushing and shoving, and in a way that is. . .mutually reassuring.” She adds: “Science is an important calculation here. But politics—the character and intentions and weaknesses and strengths of the affected people and institutions—is profoundly what it is all about. . . . One of the things worth demanding of our politicians this year is that they discuss this vital range of questions in comprehensible and relevant terms.” And comprehension depends on the understanding which comes from ordering a succession of political debates within some broader political and philosophical framework, our single most urgent survival task.
If the problem has been defined and the root causes diagnosed with some measure of clarity, where are we to turn for help? Scholarship has become too specialized, political speech-writing too clever by half, and politics too fragmented and divisive. The nation’s boldest thinkers and most eminent teachers of a quarter century ago, whether theologians, columnists, or political philosophers, who once offered guidance, have passed from the scene. Prestigious Establishment commissions on national goals have left scant trace of their wellfunded labors. The tempo of public life and mass communications is hardly conducive to political philosophy. Crises follow one another in rapid succession, and the best that society may have to offer is the art of muddling through, thanks to leaders who are successful problem-solvers and self-acknowledged pragmatists. If we conclude society is too frustrated by circumstances and too impoverished intellectually to fashion a more enduring response, we had better say so and be prepared to pay the price. Past civilizations have floundered, failed to secure their bearings, and have suffered breakdown and decline.
In the 1950’s, the Board of Trustees of a leading private foundation renowned for its work in health and agriculture around the world announced a modest program of grants in legal and political philosophy. This noble effort to stimulate political thought was short-lived; more urgent survival problems crowded out concern with the public philosophy. However, this initiative lent dignity and encouragement to the work of a handful of younger thinkers, some of whom continue to make important long-term contributions. It is conceivable that other initiatives can be found more appropriate to the times as counterforces to society’s preoccupation with its immediate, most pressing, and urgent problems. For history teaches that those leaders who have helped men and women understand present dangers and challenges in the past—the birth and survival of a young and fragile Republic, its preservation in the face of bitter civil warfare, its recovery from a devastating depression, and its safe passage through two World Wars—have done so by lifting men’s minds to higher levels of political understanding. They have extracted from present necessities certain enduring political truths. They have seen the general in the particular. If their successors are to free men from despair and substitute credible ideals for paralyzing illusions, they must do so by following similar routes and highways. Without such efforts, wisdom, as T. S. Eliot warned, will be lost in knowledge and knowledge in information. The ultimate irony would be the failure of Americans to explain American society, its values and its politics, its institutions and its economy, just at the moment its major rival, the Soviet Union, was losing most of its moral and political authority in Europe and the world.