Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

by Charles Krauthammer
Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

by Charles Krauthammer


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From America’s preeminent columnist, named by the Financial Times the most influential commentator in the nation, a must-have collection of Charles Krauthammer’s essential, timeless writings.
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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385349178
Publisher: The Crown Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/22/2013
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 9.10(w) x 6.60(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Charles Krauthammer, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, was a syndicated columnist, political commentator and physi­cian. His column was syndicated to 400 news­papers worldwide. He was a nightly panelist on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier. He’s a former member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and of Chess Journalists of America.

Read an Excerpt



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

Introduction 1

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

Constitutionalism 139

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

Acknowledgments 367

Index 370

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