Abroad, allies whom we rescued from the shambles of World War II defy us, former enemies whom we defeated now often outproduce and outtrade us. Our power is challenged by growing Soviet ambitions and military prowess; by OPEC's endless extortions; by a chaotic, largely hostile Third World. Much of this situation was symbolized by two recent events that showed the U.S. relatively powerless: Russia's invasion of Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis.
Is this what has become of the American Century?
Not really. America's domestic and foreign crises are genuine. But they have been widely exaggerated. The U.S. is more self-critical than any other nation; it is also more resilient than most. The U.S. has not suddenly turned into a second-rate power, nor even (as is sometimes suggested) into just another big power. It remains unique. It has immense resources—physical, intellectual, spiritual—that are not being fully or rightly used. An American renewal is entirely possible. But it is not inevitable. It will not be accomplished by rhetoric, chest-thumping, self-hypnosis. It will take great and disciplined effort and exact a considerable price. It will also require a virtue rare in America: patience.
That is the theme of the special editorial undertaking by all of Time Inc.'s magazines this month: American Renewal.
The need for renewal ranges well beyond economics, politics and defense; it encompasses ethics, morale, social and spiritual values. That fact and a desire to reach the largest possible audience are the reasons why we decided to spread this special project among all our publications, including those not primarily concerned with public policy. In more than a score of articles altogether, each of the magazines treats a different set of issues and offers suggestions about what should be done.
We have not tried to cover every topic worthy of attention, and we make no claims to unique answers or unique wisdom. We expect disagreement and debate. But as journalists who believe that our role should be constructive as well as critical, we have given the nation's problems much thought; we also have made a sizable effort to sift the thinking of others and to present what we believe to be the best and most promising proposals. We hope that concerned citizens and experts, in many groups, organizations, schools and colleges—possibly even in government—will consider these issues anew. Our chief purpose is to dispel the notion that nothing can be done. Thus we also report on many people who have in fact done a great deal, have already begun their own American Renewal.
Work on the project started last May, long before the outcome of the election was discernible. Some of our recommendations parallel Reagan administration policies or promises; many differ sharply from them. In general, we have not worried about what seems politically easy or feasible, but about what seems right.
America's ills are attributed to changes abroad and, variously, to lack of will, failure of nerve, moral decay, selfishness and sloth, the shattering of community feeling. One can find signs of all of these, but the key may be something else: the fact that Americans want just about everything, without considering or fully understanding the cost. We want freedom as well as order, individual liberty as well as equality, safety as well as the benefits of risk-taking, a wide-open society as well as less crime, material wealth as well as spiritual worth—without stopping to think that each of these values takes something away from the other. To use an ungainly but accurate word, we have forgotten the trade-offs.
At home, the most urgent area of renewal is, of course, the economy: curbing inflation by restoring productivity and by limiting government spending. The solution to this all too familiar problem lies in politics more than in economics: Can American democracy, or any modern democracy, restrain the excessive demands made on the society? Can the drift toward the welfare state and egalitarianism be halted without betraying the ideal of social justice? To accomplish this—and everything else we need and want—one thing is essential: sustained economic growth. This means rejecting the disastrous gospel that growth is impossible or wrong, and that small is always beautiful. Moreover, we should keep firmly in mind that socialist, rigidly planned economies are in deep trouble almost everywhere. These matters are examined in several articles in FORTUNE and MONEY magazines.
The second great task of renewal involves our political system, which sometimes alarmingly recalls the creeping paralysis of the Third and Fourth French republics. The goal must be once again to strengthen the Presidency, to undo some of the misguided reforms that have made Congress so unmanageable, to curb the monstrous federal bureaucracy and to counter the power of single-issue constituencies. Contrary to some critics, we believe that much of this can be accomplished without major changes in the Constitution. We also see the need for revitalizing the political parties and for limited changes in our electoral system, which has been distorted by, among other factors, the questionable notion that the best thing for democracy is more democracy. These issues are examined by TIME.
As for the renewal of American power in the world, a subject also treated by TIME, it will depend on certain changes in attitude. When it has not been actively intervening, America has viewed its influence abroad as somehow automatic, simply radiating outward through the shining example of the country's strength and goodness. If this was ever true, it surely no longer is. If we Americans want to be a power in the world, we will have to pay for it—and not only in money. For example, it is difficult for a country to be taken seriously as a world power if it refuses to have a military draft in an era of obvious crisis. The U.S. needs the draft.
At the same time we must take a more balanced view of the world. We are often unrealistic in overestimating the Soviets, who have serious troubles of their own. But we are also unrealistic when we feel that any success anywhere in the world not only by the Soviets and their avowed allies but by any kind of revolutionary force is a defeat for us that should be resisted and reversed. No empire since antiquity has had that kind of power. The overwhelming predominance we enjoyed following World War II, with most of the industrialized world in ruins and America in sole possession of the atomic bomb, can never be restored. We will have to face choices about where we want to bring our power to bear.
We also must realize that military might is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for American influence. It is no substitute for intelligence, sophistication, flexibility and political action, both overt and covert. Especially in the Third World, nationalism is the most potent force, and we must try to work with it rather than against it. In general we must understand that the exercise of power is a continuous task. On the world scene, as perhaps in life, there are no permanent solutions or victories. To win means to stay committed, and to maneuver.
Success in all this depends on renewal in the realm of intellect and spirit. It requires maintaining our already contested lead in science and technology and developing a many-sided energy policy not hampered by, among other things, hysterical fears of nuclear power. These topics are examined in DISCOVER. Success also requires a nation that is far better educated than we are now, a problem addressed in LIFE. We must recover a view of education beyond a certain point, not as a right, but as a privilege. Education must no longer be regarded as painless but as an enterprise in which intelligence, talent, effort and discipline are prized rather than devalued, as they are now. Examining the elusive topic of the country's moral fiber, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED looks at competition in America and its importance not only in sports but in all areas of life. PEOPLE takes up the forces battering the American family, as well as the deep needs that keep it together. PEOPLE also looks at the role that can be played by volunteers, as shown by individuals whose unselfish work has made a real difference in their communities.
Despite the heartening example of such commitments, we face a crisis of moral responsibility, which is considered by TIME. Many people are either unwilling to take up their responsibilities or unable to discern what they are. Our society as a whole is not only without an effective religious ethic; its codes of secular morality are in tatters. It is hard to imagine a plan of action, a practical program, for a moral revival. We can preach and listen to preachers; we can try to do good ourselves and organize good works; we can, and should, reexamine the philosophical source of our laxness. But in the end, we will undoubtedly find that a resurgence of values will not be brought about by moralizing vigilantes, by legislation or constitutional amendment. A respect for authority, a sense of duty and a degree of self-restraint—these will never be restored in a society that has slipped too far. But in a society like ours that still has great reservoirs of sound moral strength, they will be restored almost mysteriously, through natural growth, as a result of millions of individual decisions and efforts. There is much evidence that, in reaction against the permissive excesses of the '60s and '70s, people (especially the young) have begun to rediscover a desperate need for standards, and that the self-worship of the "me decade" is giving way to a new sense of mutual support.
The problems of race remain a standing reproach to American morality. Tremendous progress has been made during recent decades in stamping out discrimination, but economically troubled times always reveal its lingering presence. The fight against it must continue, and so must a measure of "affirmative action," preferably without the excesses of government bureaucracy. Anything less would badly tarnish an American Renewal.
One of the greatest falsehoods spread in recent years is that people are powerless. Far from it. We have seen the advance of a breathtaking series of organized causes, from the environmental movement, which became a major force in less than a generation, to women's rights and the anti-abortion campaign. In fact, far too much effort is expended on single issues. They may or may not be worthy in themselves. The point is that these crusades downgrade or ignore overriding national issues and ultimately the broad national interest. It happens partly because people are uncertain as to just what the national interest is, and so these narrow causes become their substitute communities, their homes.
Yet the success of these drives has demonstrated that we have an ability unmatched in any other modern democracy to organize for the reshaping of society. The crucial task now is to restrain this capacity and guide it toward broader issues so as to make possible at least a measure of consensus and unity.
The Founding Fathers recognized and denounced the "spirit of faction." That spirit has always existed in our highly contentious nation; the broad consensus that supposedly prevailed in earlier days is largely a nostalgic illusion. We will never turn into a republic of virtue, animated by perfect brotherhood. We are too large, too varied, too free and too human for that. But in the past at least we usually managed to rule ourselves through rough accommodation, based on the recognition that while I may subdue my neighbor on one issue today, he may subdue me on another tomorrow. The Founders thought of this as civic virtue, as self-interest rightly understood. That is what we must retrieve.
To believe in an American Renewal one must ultimately believe in individual Americans: those countless citizens who, despite all the doubts, the heedlessness, the disorder of the society, go about their lives with courage and patience, slangy competence and cheerful persistence, with some larceny and some anger and some kindness—and above all with the odd conviction that their country is still an experiment and that it must stand for something beyond mere survival. These are not exclusive American virtues, but they are human virtues with a very American accent, and they surely must inspire a sense of love and hope.