Over the last few days a consensus has formed, on both the left and the right, that awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama was too much, too soon. Even the President’s warmest admirers were embarrassed by the honor’s prematurity, while his domestic critics seized on it much the way they had reacted to the international adulation Obama received as a candidate, when, for example, he brought more than 200,000 people onto the streets of Berlin: they saw it as evidence both of the wide-eyed, teenybopper crush foreigners have on Obama and, somehow, of the President’s own hubris. But on closer examination, the award is not the stunning surprise it first seemed. And, at least from the point of view of those who gave it, it’s not so daft either.
Yonville l’Abbaye, literature’s capital of provincial conformity, clichés, and idées reçues, was said by Flaubert to be “a place that does not exist.” But ever since Maxime du Camp, Flaubert’s friend and traveling companion, told the world that the germ of Madame Bovary was the scandalous death by suicide of Delphine Delamare, wife of the officer of health in the small market town of Ry, fiction and fact, Yonville and Ry, have become inseparably entwined.
I grew up in Boston in the 1950s, so I immediately grasped the basic idea of Roman street signs: they are there not to inform you ahead of time where you might want to turn but rather to confirm where you have already turned, once the fateful decision has been made. And at least Romans reliably tell you the name of the street or highway to which you have now committed yourself.
On September 1, the Slovak parliament made it largely illegal for its citizens to use any language other than Slovak. The use of minority languages in “official” situations is now punishable by fines of up to €5,000 (US $7,270)—and possible offenses include:
The most striking feature of China’s October 1 celebration of sixty years of Communist rule was the spectacular and tightly choreographed military parade in the center of Beijing. The display of crass militarism—paralleled only by parades in Pyongyang or, a few years ago, Moscow—cannot have done much for China’s image around the world, but China’s rulers may not have cared about that or even been aware of it. They no doubt had a domestic audience in mind. Their aim was to stir nationalism and cast themselves as its champion, or—in the case of Tibetans, Uighurs, or protesters of various kinds—to make it very clear who owns the guns.
The hysteria shown at town hall meetings this summer is simply the tip of an outpouring of organized hostility to government that is unparalleled in our history. We have had wildly emotional opposition movements in the past—red scares, nativist riots, anti-Catholic and anti-Semite outbreaks. And there are some parallels with past forms of extremism. People who think Obama is a Muslim are like anti-New Dealers who thought Roosevelt a Jew or John Birchers who thought Eisenhower a Communist.
We know that the Supreme Court’s decision in the pending Hillary: The Movie case, argued in a special early hearing before the Supreme Court on September 9, will be bad for democracy. We don’t yet know how bad it will be.