A brilliant stylist known for an uncompromising honesty that challenged conventional wisdom at every turn, Krauthammer dazzled readers for decades with his keen insight into politics and government. His weekly column was a must-read in Washington and across the country. Don’t miss the best of Krauthammer’s intelligence, erudition and wit collected in one volume.
Readers will find here not only the country’s leading conservative thinker offering a passionate defense of limited government, but also a highly independent mind whose views—on feminism, evolution and the death penalty, for example—defy ideological convention. Things That Matter also features several of Krauthammer’s major path-breaking essays—on bioethics, on Jewish destiny and on America’s role as the world’s superpower—that have profoundly influenced the nation’s thoughts and policies. And finally, the collection presents a trove of always penetrating, often bemused reflections on everything from border collies to Halley’s Comet, from Woody Allen to Winston Churchill, from the punishing pleasures of speed chess to the elegance of the perfectly thrown outfield assist.
With a special, highly autobiographical introduction in which Krauthammer reflects on the events that shaped his career and political philosophy, this indispensible chronicle takes the reader on a fascinating journey through the fashions and follies, the tragedies and triumphs, of the last three decades of American life.
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About the Author
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I. THE BOOK
What matters? Lives of the good and the great, the innocence of dogs, the cunning of cats, the elegance of nature, the wonders of space, the perfectly thrown outfield assist, the difference between historical guilt and historical responsibility, homage and sacrilege in monumental architecture, fashions and follies and the finer uses of the F-word.
What matters? Manners and habits, curiosities and conundrums social and ethical: Is a doctor ever permitted to kill a patient wishing to die? Why in the age of feminism do we still use the phrase “women and children”? How many lies is one allowed to tell to advance stem cell research?
What matters? Occam’s razor, Fermat’s last theorem, the Fermi paradox in which the great man asks: With so many habitable planets out there, why in God’s name have we never heard a word from a single one of them?
These are the things that most engage me. They fill my days, some trouble my nights. They give me pause, pleasure, wonder. They make me grateful for the gift of consciousness. And for three decades they have occupied my mind and commanded my pen.
I don’t claim these things matter to everyone. Nor should they. I have my eccentricities. I’ve driven from Washington to New York to watch a chess match. Twice. I’ve read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Also twice, though here as a public service—to reassure my readers that this most unread bestseller is indeed as inscrutable as they thought. And perhaps most eccentric of all, I left a life in medicine for a life in journalism devoted mostly to politics, while firmly believing that what really matters, what moves the spirit, what elevates the mind, what fires the imagination, what makes us fully human are all of these endeavors, disciplines, confusions and amusements that lie outside politics.
Accordingly, this book was originally going to be a collection of my writings about everything but politics. Things beautiful, mysterious, profound or just odd. Working title: There’s More to Life than Politics.
But in the end I couldn’t. For a simple reason, the same reason I left psychiatry for journalism. While science, medicine, art, poetry, architecture, chess, space, sports, number theory and all things hard and beautiful promise purity, elegance and sometimes even transcendence, they are fundamentally subordinate. In the end, they must bow to the sovereignty of politics.
Politics, the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything because, in the end, everything—high and low and, most especially, high—lives or dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know,” every schoolchild is fed. But even Keats— poet, romantic, early 19th-century man oblivious to the horrors of the century to come—kept quotational distance from such blissful innocence. Turns out we need to know one more thing on earth: politics— because of its capacity, when benign, to allow all around it to flourish, and its capacity, when malign, to make all around it wither.
This is no abstraction. We see it in North Korea, whose deranged Stalinist politics has created a land of stunning desolation and ugliness, both spiritual and material. We saw it in China’s Cultural Revolution, a sustained act of national self-immolation, designed to dethrone, debase and destroy the highest achievements of five millennia of Chinese culture. We saw it in Taliban Afghanistan, which, just months before 9/11, marched its cadres into the Bamiyan Valley and with tanks, artillery and dynamite destroyed its magnificent cliff-carved 1,700-year-old Buddhas lest they—like kite flying and music and other things lovely—disturb the scorched-earth purity of their nihilism.
Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns. The entire 20th century with its mass political enthusiasms is a lesson in the supreme power of politics to produce ever-expanding circles of ruin. World War I not only killed more people than any previous war. The psychological shock of Europe’s senseless self-inflicted devastation forever changed Western sensibilities, practically overthrowing the classical arts, virtues and modes of thought. The Russian Revolution and its imitators (Chinese, Cuban, Vietnamese, Cambodian) tried to atomize society so thoroughly—to war against the mediating structures that stand between the individual and the state—that the most basic bonds of family, faith, fellowship and conscience came to near dissolution. Of course, the greatest demonstration of the finality of politics is the Holocaust, which in less than a decade destroyed a millennium-old civilization, sweeping away not only 6 million souls but the institutions, the culture, the very tongue of the now-vanished world of European Jewry.
The only power comparably destructive belongs to God. Or nature. Or, if like Jefferson you cannot quite decide, Nature’s God. Santorini was a thriving island civilization in the Mediterranean until, one morning 3,500 years ago, it simply fell into the sea. An earthquake. A volcanic eruption. The end.
And yet even God cannot match the cruelty of his creation. For every Santorini, there are a hundred massacres of innocents. And that is the work of man—more particularly, the work of politics, of groups of men organized to gain and exercise power.
Which in its day-to-day conduct tends not to be the most elevated of human enterprises. Machiavelli gave it an air of grandeur and glory, but Disraeli’s mordant exultation “I have climbed to the top of the greasy pole,” best captured its quotidian essence—grubby, grasping, manipulative, demagogic, cynical.
The most considered and balanced statement of politics’ place in the hierarchy of human disciplines came, naturally, from an American. “I must study politics and war,” wrote John Adams, “that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
Adams saw clearly that politics is the indispensable foundation for things elegant and beautiful. First and above all else, you must secure life, liberty and the right to pursue your own happiness. That’s politics done right, hard-earned, often by war. And yet the glories yielded by such a successful politics lie outside itself. Its deepest purpose is to create the conditions for the cultivation of the finer things, beginning with philosophy and science, and ascending to the ever more delicate and refined arts. Note Adams’ double reference to architecture: The second generation must study naval architecture—a hybrid discipline of war, commerce and science—before the third can freely and securely study architecture for its own sake.
The most optimistic implication of Adams’ dictum is that once the first generation gets the political essentials right, they remain intact to nurture the future. Yet he himself once said that “there never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” Jefferson was even less sanguine about the durability of liberty. He wrote that a constitutional revolution might be needed every 20 years. Indeed, the lesson of our history is that the task of merely maintaining strong and sturdy the structures of a constitutional order is unending, the continuing and ceaseless work of every generation.
To which I have devoted much of my life. And which I do not disdain by any means. Indeed, I intend to write a book on foreign policy and, if nature (or God or Nature’s God) gives me leave, to write yet one more on domestic policy. But this book is intended at least as much for other things. Things that for me, as for Adams, shine most brightly.
Table of Contents
Part 1 Personal 17
Chapter 1 The Good and the Great 19
Marcel, My Brother 19
Winston Churchill: The Indispensable Man 22
Paul Erdos: Sweet Genius 25
Rick Ankiel: Return of the Natural 28
Christopher Columbus: Dead White Male 31
Hermann Lisco: Man for All Seasons 34
Chapter 2 Manners 37
No Dancing in the End Zone 37
"Women and Children." Still? 40
Don't Touch My Junk 43
Accents and Affectations 46
The Appeal of Ordeal 49
Chapter 3 Pride and Prejudices 55
The Pariah Chess Club 55
Of Dogs and Men 58
In Defense of the F-Word 61
The Central Axiom of Partisan Politics 64
Krauthammer's First Law 67
Chapter 4 Follies 71
Save the Border Collie 71
Bush Derangement Syndrome 74
Life by Manual 77
From People Power to Polenta 80
Annals of "Art" 83
"Natural" Childbirth 87
The Inner Man? Who Cares 90
The Mirror-Image Fallacy 93
Chapter 5 Passions and Pastimes 99
The Joy of Losing 99
Beauty, Truth and Hitchcock 102
Fermat Solved 105
Be Afraid 108
The Best Show in Town 112
Chapter 6 Heaven and Earth 115
Your Only Halley's 115
Humbled by the Hayden 118
Lit Up for Liftoff? 121
Farewell, the New Frontier 124
Are We Alone in the Universe? 127
Part 2 Political 131
Chapter 7 Citizen and State 133
Reflections on the Revolution in France 133
Did the State Make You Great? 136
Myth of the Angry White Male 142
Going Negative 145
The Tirana Index 148
Chapter 8 Conundrums 151
Without the Noose, Without the Gag 151
Motherhood Missed 154
Ambiguity and Affirmative Action 157
Massacre at Newtown 160
Pandora and Polygamy 163
Empathy or Right? 166
First a Wall--Then Amnesty 169
In Plain English-Let's Make It Official 172
Of Course It's a Ponzi Scheme 175
The Church of Global Warming 178
Chapter 9 Body and Soul 181
The Dutch Example 181
Stem Cells and Fairy Tales 184
The Truth About End-of-Life Counseling 187
Mass Murder, Medicalized 190
The Double Tragedy of a Stolen Death 193
Essay: On the Ethics of Embryonic Research 196
Chapter 10 Man and God 209
The Real Message of Creationism 209
God vs. Caesar 212
Body Worship 215
Chernenko and the Case Against Atheism 218
Chapter 11 Memory and Monuments 221
Sweet Land of Liberty 221
Holocaust Museum 224
Sacrilege at Ground Zero 227
FDR: The Dignity of Denial 230
Martin Luther King in Word and Stone 233
Collective Guilt, Collective Responsibility 236
Part 3 Historical 239
Chapter 12 The Jewish Question, Again 241
Those Troublesome Jews 241
Land Without Peace 245
Borat the Fearful 248
Judging Israel 251
Essay: Zionism and the Fate of the Jews 258
Chapter 13 The Golden Age 275
The '80s: Revival 275
The '90s: Serenity 278
Cold War Nostalgia 281
Chapter 14 The Age of Holy Terror 285
September 11, 2001 285
When Imagination Fails 288
"The Borders of Islam Are Bloody" 290
To War or Not to War? 293
The Surge, Denied 296
Who Lost Iraq? 299
From Freedom Agenda to Freedom Doctrine 302
Language and Leadership 305
Chapter 15 The Age to Come 309
Hyperproliferation: Can We Survive It? 309
Death by Drone 312
No Hiding from History 315
Part 4 Global 319
Chapter 16 Three Essays on America and the World 321
The Unipolar Moment (1990) 321
Democratic Realism (2004) 333
Decline Is a Choice (2009) 352