Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Moynihan -thoughts for our times

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a professor at Harvard, Ambassador to India and the UN, part of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations, and of course Senator from New York.  The collection of letters put together by Steven Weisman presents a wide view into his thinking.  While the letters are naturally about events as they presented themselves they speak to current events as well.

For example the riots in London bring to mind a letter reflecting on an essay published in The Public Interest:

His central point [Paul Weaver] – an immensely disturbing one—is that the social system of American and British democracy that grew up in the 18th and 19th century was able to be exceedingly permissive with regard to public matters precisely because it could depend on its citizens to be quite disciplined with respect to private ones.  He speaks of ‘private systems of authority,’ such as the family, church, and local community, and political party, which regulated behavior, instilled motivation, etc., in such a way as to make it unnecessary for the state to intervene in order to protect ‘the public interest.’  More and more it would appear that these subsystems are breaking down in the immense city of New York.  If this should continue, democracy would break down.”

Letter to President Nixon, January 1969, page 169 -170

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