This November’s presidential election could be understood in many different ways. It could be seen as a referendum on Donald Trump’s eventful first four years in the White House. It could be viewed as a response to the president’s impeachment and acquittal in Congress. Or perhaps it could be taken as just the latest election in which a majority of Americans are frustrated with an uninspired, binary choice. But there is a larger narrative unfolding in the mind of First Things editor R. R. Reno, with much more at stake than just the next four years.
In Return of the Strong Gods: Nationalism, Populism, and the Future of the West, Reno traces the condition of Western society in the aftermath of the “postwar consensus.” Prioritizing openness and free markets in order to prevent global catastrophes like the two world wars, this consensus has shaped the most influential thinking of our age, from Karl Popper and Jacques Derrida to Friedrich Hayek and William F. Buckley. Reno says it has affected most aspects of society and culture, including politics, economics, education, and even architecture.
In terms of preventing another global conflict, the postwar consensus has been an unmitigated success. But at what cost? As Reno tells the story, the West is now facing several pressing challenges that ought to be laid at its doorstep, including widespread addiction, disenchantment, and loneliness, along with a general loss of social solidarity. And the ruling class—comprised of liberals and conservatives alike—is too focused on maintaining this consensus to notice or care. Yes, countries may not be perpetually on the brink of war, and free trade has made the world more prosperous and closely connected ...1
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