It’s nearly New Year’s Eve. To commemorate the occasion, NRO asked its friends and contributors to answers some questions: What were the best and worst developments of 2011? And what’s the best and worst we can expect in 2012?
How small, of all that human hearts endure,
That part which laws or kings can cause or cure!
Still to ourselves in every place consign’d,
Our own felicity we make or find.
Samuel Johnson gave these lines to his friend Oliver Goldsmith, to add to his poem “The Traveler.” So it has been with me for 2011. Since my best and worst are personal, I will consign them to myself.
Public affairs are sometimes predictable, though, so I can answer the forward-looking bonus question: There is a possibility that Barack Obama will begin his retirement from the presidency in November, and not a moment too soon — although, come to think of it, if he loses, he will be eligible to run again later (as well as pull a John Quincy Adams and seek lower office).
— National Review senior editor Richard Brookhiser is author of Madison.
Worst of 2011: The August riots in England, which illustrated several unhappy truths about modern Western society, most notably the one enunciated by Angela Merkel in February: “Multikulti ist gescheitert.” Also the one our own James Burnham expressed a half-century before: “Liberalism is a philosophy of consolation for western civilization as it commits suicide.”
Best of 2011: A tie between (a) the end of the Shuttle program and (b) Wendi Murdoch defending her man.
Worst to come in 2012: Over we go!
Best to come in 2012: Electoral defeat of Barack Obama.
— John Derbyshire is an NR contributing editor.
The best of 2011: the opening of the U.S. branch of the Jerome Lejeune Foundation, whose mission is to treat Down Syndrome and to spur major medical progress that may be as little as ten years away.
The worst of 2011: the March 11 earthquake 80 miles east of Honshu, Japan, that left so much loss of human life and physical devastation in its wake.
The year 2012 holds great potential as a time of clarifying debate about the most fundamental questions of civilization: Can we live indefinitely beyond our means, are eternal values like the meaning of marriage and human life dispensable, and is religious freedom any longer at the pinnacle of human rights?
— Charles A. Donovan is president of the new Charlotte Lozier Institute.
Jim’s Best/Happiest Story of 2011: The Louisiana Comeback under Gov. Bobby Jindal: Conservative reforms can work, even in some of the most unlikely places.
Jim’s Worst Story of 2011: The wasted potential of Jon Huntsman as the most credible critic of Obama’s mismanagement at home and abroad.
Looking forward to in the New Year: all Republicans cheerfully and respectfully articulating our differences in the process of selecting a nominee to be the next president.
— Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot blog on National Review Online.
The standout speech of 2011 was easily that given by Benedict XVI on 22 September to the German Bundestag. Delivered not far from history’s most infamous bunker, the Pope managed in fewer than 2,700 words not only to identify some of the West’s worst philosophical pathologies, which have narrowed the horizons of human reason and imagination, but also to suggest ways out of Western man’s self-imposed intellectual prison. It was quite a contrast to the limp address to Britain’s House of Lords given one month earlier by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, in which he managed to minimize the personal responsibility of the rioters who trashed London for three days in August, and instead stressed the importance of “context” and the need “to engage creatively with the possibilities that this moment gives us.” It was liberal Christianity/Church of England–ism at its hairy-lefty worst.
One event to watch in the first quarter of 2012 will be Pope Benedict’s visit to Cuba. As the Castro brothers’ regime slowly totters into obsolescence (much like the generation of 1968, for whom Castro’s dictatorship was such a poster-child), the Pope will surely not miss the opportunity to remind Cubans and the rest of the world that such is the fruit of the pursuit of secular utopias and the denial of liberty and truth.
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute. He has authored several books, including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy, and his forthcoming Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, and America’s Future.
Well at my age, it’s hard to remember 2011 — it all dissolves into a fog of war — but I do seem to remember some happy moments. My favorite book was “Spengler’s” wonderful It’s Not the End of the World, It’s Only the End of You. The worst moment for me was when Fred Thompson decided to withdraw from the presidential race. What? Wrong year? But I remember it so clearly.
Next year’s best event: Ahmadinejad and Khomeini take asylum in Pyongyang with that chubby little dictator.
— Michael Ledeen is author of Virgil’s Golden Egg and Other Neapolitan Miracles: An Investigation into the Sources of Creativity.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
One of the most remarkable moments of the year may have been the royal wedding. All over the world people watched, some of us getting up fairly early in the morning. And, whatever the imperfections in the story, these words were spoken by the Rt. Rev. Richard Chartes, the Anglican bishop of London:
You have both made your decision today — “I will” — and by making this new relationship, you have aligned yourselves with what we believe is the way in which life is spiritually evolving, and which will lead to a creative future for the human race.
We stand looking forward to a century which is full of promise and full of peril. Human beings are confronting the question of how to use wisely a power that has been given to us through the discoveries of the last century. We shall not be converted to the promise of the future by more knowledge, but rather by an increase of loving wisdom and reverence, for life, for the earth and for one another.
Marriage should transform, as husband and wife make one another their work of art. It is possible to transform as long as we do not harbour ambitions to reform our partner. There must be no coercion if the Spirit is to flow; each must give the other space and freedom. Chaucer, the London poet, sums it up in a pithy phrase:
“Whan maistrie [mastery] comth, the God of Love anon,
Beteth his wynges, and farewell, he is gon.”
As the reality of God has faded from so many lives in the West, there has been a corresponding inflation of expectations that personal relations alone will supply meaning and happiness in life. This is to load our partner with too great a burden. We are all incomplete: We all need the love which is secure, rather than oppressive, we need mutual forgiveness, to thrive.
As we move towards our partner in love, following the example of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is quickened within us and can increasingly fill our lives with light. This leads to a family life which offers the best conditions in which the next generation can practice and exchange those gifts which can overcome fear and division and incubate the coming world of the Spirit, whose fruits are love and joy and peace.
Remarkable — if we were listening.
That Arizona shooting was a pretty dark moment. As was some of the shameless commentary that followed.
The election year could be a series of compellingly clarifying moments.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online.
The best political development in 2011 was the Solyndra bankruptcy. More than a run-of-the-mill scandal, it drew attention to the inherent corruption of federal corporate welfare and the particular folly of dumping money into economically dubious green-energy business models.
The worst political development was the explosion of Republican primary debates, which turned the process into a ludicrous, Dancing with the Stars–style competition. This is no way to identify the best candidate — much less the best future president.
What I’m looking forward to it 2012 is the Supreme Court’s ruling on Obamacare in the spring, which — for better or worse — will significantly and permanently impact political and policy debates.
— Carrie L. Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.
JOHN J. MILLER
Best Album: American Goldwing by Blitzen Trapper. I didn’t love this album as quickly as I’ve loved other albums by the same band, but it really has grown on me. Good songs. Strong lyrics. Nobody does the Americana-folk-rock thing better.
Worst Album: Anything with the word “Glee” in the title.
— John J. Miller is NR’s national correspondent and the author of The First Assassin, a historical thriller.
Looking back, 2011 was a pretty undistinguished year in which much that was bad got worse. The worst of it is the economy, which continues to hover at the extreme recession point, with high unemployment and a prevailing lack of reason for optimism about the future, including the future of the U.S. in the world and the future of one’s own children. That’s why everything has been 40 percent off since Thanksgiving, you can’t sell your house, and NPR runs unceasing reports of the toll that unemployment takes on physical and mental health. Dreary. And heartbreaking.
The best thing about 2011 — the Arab Spring. To see all of those downtrodden men and women in the Arab world overthrow brutal dictators, then elect men and women of integrity and moderation, who promise rule of law, equal rights for all, peace with Israel and the West, and open economies is inspirational and uplifting. What? Never mind. The best thing about 2011 is that even the Baby Boomer–run media has adopted, as its new conventional wisdom, the belief that the Baby Boomers ruined everything.
The best book I personally read this year was The Late George Apley, by John P. Marquand. It tells all you need to know about how long and hard progressive intellectuals have been working to undermine the American character. More currently, in young-adult fiction — Jennifer Donnelly’s Revolution does two distinct things successfully: It tells an interesting story about overprivileged, miserable kids in an NYC private school, and it works in the (conservative) revisionist view of the French Revolution — that regardless of ideological claims of Liberté, Egalité, and Fraternité, it was really a despotic bloodbath that resulted in much innocent blood spilled, as ideological revolutions so often do. This message runs contrary to everything teens are taught in today’s PC history classes.
The most overrated piece of fiction I read was The Cat’s Table, by Michael Ondaatje, which seemed more like a gathering of wholly autobiographical stuff the aging author hadn’t used, some of which had minor charm at best, but which, with his name and colonial past, would sell to the literati.
Best non-fiction: Peter Tomsen’s excellent history, The Wars of Afghanistan. Tomsen knows the country, its culture, and the last 30 years of U.S. history there, inside and out.
If you have teens and you have to listen to their music in your car, it’s a hard call, but the worst popular music today is the smutty, oversexed, semi-literate work of Rihanna. Or Ke$ha. Or . . .
Best music: Sinatra. Always.
Best TV show of 2011: Men of a Certain Age, which was an honest and fascinating attempt to depict the lives of genuinely middle-class, middle-aged American men of middling success. There was a certain “beautiful loser” quality to it that TV, with its need for heroes, anti-heroes, hotties, and comics, is scared to touch. Naturally it was not renewed.
Worst TV: The gaping hole where Mad Men should have been.
Worst political action? So hard to choose one from Obama’s Sherman-like march across the country, torching liberty, capitalism, and our way of life as he went. The winner is: The secretive, late-November decision to have the Fed pour billions of U.S. tax dollars into European banks, so they can keep Greece, Italy, and Co. afloat. This decision to have U.S. taxpayers help bail out European welfare states — which really may fail — will be disastrous when it all falls down.
Best political action: The last-minute reprieve for the incandescent light bulb by GOP congressmen who finally understood that if they didn’t do this one little thing, we could not keep faith alive that they will be able to repeal Obamacare.
For 2012, I’m looking forward to Americans’ electing a new president. Even more, I am looking forward to seeing Newt, as candidate or loyal supporter of the candidate, explain, over and over and over to the American people, all of the lies, fraud, and deception that the current administration employs to destroy the economic, political, and social fabric of American society.
— Lisa Schiffren writes from New York.
I suppose I should stick to topics on which I have a comparative advantage over other NRO commentators, so . . .
Best video game: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. This is not for casual players, but it is one of the most ambitious projects anyone in the industry has attempted, and it’s incredibly addictive.
Best metal album: In Flames, Sounds of a Playground Fading. Critics have been accusing this band of selling out since they stopped screaming so much, but this record strikes a perfect balance between melody, beauty, and brutality. (In fairness, I haven’t heard the new Mastodon yet.)
Worst of 2011: There were 13 GOP debates. This is especially problematic for me, because in my house, the GOP-debate tradition is that while the candidates make fools of themselves, my wife makes fun of me for voting Republican, and I hang my head in shame.
Looking forward to in 2012: The PlayStation Vita handheld console looks promising. And maybe we’ll finally see a new Guns N’ Roses album that’s actually worth the wait.
— Robert VerBruggen is an associate editor of NR.