Skip to main content

tv   Book TV After Words  CSPAN  December 12, 2011 12:00am-1:00am EST

12:00 am
you know what to have a bad debt on the books and the homeowners got a mortgage when he or she can pay and i said in the book i know this will work because when i was governor in the late 70's and early 80's and our farmers got in trouble, we had been hundreds of the small state chartered banks who didn't want to foreclose on the farmers saying they knew they were just having a couple of bad years and they couldn't pay their loans off and they didn't want to take possession of these so we allowed the banks -- we changed the law and allowed them to take an ownership position on the forms and then give the farmer the absolute buyback to take the farm back and the full title once they could pay it off. ..
12:01 am
>> host: well, as it has, it i've been reading this the same time i've been reading your book. given the essential point i think when a civilization falls, if there's said to a have point that's many volumes long and many years is that it's the collapse of a civilization can seem sudden when the barbarians are at the gates, but in reality, it's the result of a
12:02 am
long stagnation, political eras, and political decay of all kinds. your point is the opposite in civil dation that they can collapse faster than we generally think. leaving aside for a second the ultimate question of whether we're going the way of rome, do you see what's happening now, and the whole toxic broth of news that is in our lives every day, do you see this as relatively sudden or the result of factors that go back at least as far as the second world war? >> guest: far be it for me to disagree with the the greatest historian of all time, but one of the points i wanted to make in civilization is given as a historian thinking in historical processes as gradual and slow acting, i mean, he covers a millennium of history, and rome takes a thousand years or so to
12:03 am
decline and fall, eni suppose the problem with that approach to historical change is that it encourages a certain come complacency in it in that we have problems, but they'll play out over decades and centuries. why worry? it's the present. what i try to argue is that it's not actually quite like gibbon says. to contemporaries, the decline and fall was not as obvious as the fall, and the decline is something we only see really in retrospect and the things historians find out later after the fact. now, for us as contemporaries, while we have all kinds of insummations of problems, i don't think the possibility of a very sudden fall is something we fully internalized an come to terms with, and yet, the evidence is all around us that things do collapse rather than
12:04 am
gently slide. remember, this is partly the way we think as human beings that have a certain rise, a peek of the power, and a decline and ultimately we fall and pass on and the reading glasses set in and things begin to go. this is how we are, but it's not how civilizations are or cities or states are. in fact, they are grown in a different wave than from individual human beings. they grow exponentially, and they reach a peak, and at that peak, they are surprisingly vulnerable, and then they can fall suddenly and steeply rather than gently declining on the curve. part of the point of the book is to change the way we think about change and to make us much more aware than i think we are
12:05 am
instinctively the potential suddenness of this disi want gracious or collapse -- disintegration or collapse and what happened in the soviet union, what is happening to the european union is the thing that can happen to any complex adaptive system. it can malfunction, and things that we perhaps expect to take decades take days. >> host: i'm about to veer off because you mentioned the soviet union, and i was there as a journalist between 1969 and 1972, and certainly any journalist who tells you that they predicted the fall of the soviet empire is lying. no one did. we just thought it was going to go on forever, and yet, you know, you're talking about you see things only in retrospect, and yet it seems to me not in
12:06 am
retrospect and whenever anybody wrote something for the american paper and how science didn't work other than for the military part of the economy, people didn't believe it nor did the editors, but, in fact, you could easily say, if you looked at the fact that that economy was not working then, and it never worked for consumers, that in some way, the fall was inevitable the minute the little bit of terror was taken away, different from what you're talking about because the western society is not held together by terror. >> guest: no, that's right. there's profound differences. i don't want to suggest we're about to have a soviet like collapse, but what we saw in the financial crisis was the speed in which our system can malfunction. everybody in 2006 and right into early 2007 in the financial business thought things were just going great, and i even had an extraordinary experience when hedge fund manager bet me that
12:07 am
would never be another recession in the united states. >> host: never? >> guest: this was in early 2007 and made the bet. i said never is not a great time frame for a bet. what about five years? of course, he lost his money, and i discovered counterparty risk because i'm still waiting to be paid i should say. this is really the way things are, that the complex entities, whether you're talking about the planned economy of the soviet yiewn your or the -- union or the very dynamic financial system arrising in the western world over the last century or so, these things have the potential to break down very much more rapidly than we tend to assume. as i was writing the book, this kept coming home to me. as the west was ascending, which it did exponentially, it kept encountering other civilizations
12:08 am
that were al -- agile and that's partly bilogical because they don't have resistance to european germs, but it's not just that. it's frag gill systems -- fragile systems. as they expand east wards, the oriental systems do badly in competition. the moguls fold and although china remains notionally independent as an imperial system in practice, it's economically hollowed out in the 19th century and the empire goes down in 1911, exactly a century ago. writing that book taught me an important lesson writing about the process, that we shouldn't think of history as cyclical or gradual or seasonal or
12:09 am
bilogical, but rather think of it in terms of adaptive, complex systems, the kinds of things they center at the santa fe institute. there's phenomenals that behave like this, but it's interesting to realize civilizations are governed by similar laws of these complex natural systems in the natural world. >> host: watching your own children grow up in england, you had the feeling they were learning less history than you learned at their age, and you write, "watching this financial crisis unfold, i realized they were far from alone seeming only a handful of people in the banks and treasuries of the western world had more of the sketchiest education about the last great depression." expand on that and give examples of what you're talking about when it comes to the historical ignorance of people who are supposed to be world controllers. >> guest: i have a kind of polling system i run. every time i give a talk to an
12:10 am
audience of people from the financial services industry, whether bankers or hedge fund managers or private equity guys, i ensure at some point in the talk i ask if they read one of two books. the first book is milton friedman and the monetary history of the united states, probably the single most important book of financial history about the united states, and it cop tans an extraordinary brilliant chapter called the great contraction about the great depression in the u.s.. now, the other book is bair's book "golden fetters" the international history of the great depression, the book that shows why a huge shock in the united states spread right around the world. now, nearly always, somebody has read one or the other of these books, and typically it's one person in a hundred. that seems to be an incredible indictment of the way we educate
12:11 am
people. >> host: financial people you're talking about, not just anyone, but businesses with money. >> guest: people usually earning large amounts of money running or working for major financial institutions. the level of historical ignorance in the financial sector is absolutely astonishing. what this means is that since most people who have entered that profession have never formally studied financial history. the only history they know is the history of their own careers. since as i work currently, average career duration of a wall street ceo in 2007 was 25 years. you can figure out just how little they knew. all they had experienced was the 1980s and 1990s. >> host: expansion, expansion. >> guest: they are not even experienced the 1970s nor read about the 1930s. that's the scary thing. i felt the only person in the
12:12 am
whole country in the position of any responsibility who seriously studied the great depression was ben bernanke who did most of his research on that subject. >> host: every author's entitled to one slow pitch softball question. here's yours. your talk about the six major apps ranging from competition to consumerism, the west started downloading in the 15th century, and the east did not. describe briefly, if you will, and we'll move from there as what i see a a few problematic aspects. slow pitch. >> guest: that's a slow pitch ball, let me reach for my baseball bat. the idea here was to try to explain the great diversion of the west to the rest in terms my children could relate to, and i wanted to try and tell the story in a way that would engage them, so instead of talking about what
12:13 am
i nearly did which was complex ideas and institutions, and institutions are a terrible word to use to teenagers, but i said there were killer apps. six killer applications that the west devised that the rest didn't have, and they were competition. i don't talk about capitalism in the book because that's term of abuse like imperialism, and i talk quite carefully about competition both economic and political competition as an app. i talk about the scientific revolution of the 17th century which transformed our understanding of the natural world and introduced scientific methodology as we understand it today, but then there's the rule of law, which is actually more important than democracy. if by democracy you mean holding universal sufferrage election. the rule of property is a killer especially when ruled out in
12:14 am
north america. there's the opposite of a killer because what it does with the great breakthroughs of the early 20th century is more than double life expectancy. think about that. people in the west were living device as long on average than people of the rest of the world. the consumer society is important because without that, there's no point having an industrial revolution. there's no point lowering the unit cost of an article of cotton clotting if nobody wants it or expects to own multiple shirts. consumer society creates command for industrial product which is crucial. finally, the work ethic, what is talked about in the process and ethics in the spirit of capitalism. when i say there's something in there right, though some were wrong to identify it specifically, so the story is essentially these six thicks for a time didn't exist anywhere else but in the west. that is europe and the great communism of european settlement in the new world, and they are the things that explain the
12:15 am
great di divergence making the average american 20 times richer than the average chinese by the 1970s, and that's an argument very different from the kind of argument that says, oh, it's the weather or it's national character or it's geography. i mean, all of those arguments over time have been used to explain the great divergence and years ago it was racial theory, but none of those arguments explain it. it's institutions, the killer apps, that explain why the west got richer, healthier, and more powerful than the rest. >> host: one of the things i was thinking about reading this part of the your book is the question of how much is too much? for instance, of course, i agree with you about consumerism, but are we not also seeing evidence right now that it can be taken too far? during the past 20 years in england and the u.s. speaking of
12:16 am
specifically, that consumerism we can't afford. the simplest sense buying and wanting what we can't pay for is one of the deep structural problems within our economy. >> guest: of course, isn't that -- the book has a second question after my first question. the first question is why did the west become so much stronger than the rest. the second question is is it over? the answer is yeah, probably it is over because in each of the six areas, you can see signs of real weakness that i think were not there before, and you hit on one of them. when talking about the process of ethics and spirit of capitalism, he partly meant not just hard productive work, but thrift. saving was part of the idea of what made capitalism different because you were deferring consumption and accumulating capital. we left that far behind in the last two decades ending up a nichtion in which the --
12:17 am
situation in which the savings raised in the united states went below 0 so nothing at all was saved from the current income, and in order to finance growth particularly in the last ten or so years before the crisis, more and more households relied on debt to finance purchases rather than increases in income. i think what we did was we took the consumer society that we invented, and we leveraged it to the hilt. we borrowed to the hilt until finally it broke down, and now, i think, one reason that we see relatively sluggish growth in the u.s., the main reason, is that consumers are shackled by the debts that they incurred in the part of 2007, and those debts will not go away. it's hard to deleverage, to diminish the debt burden, and while people are focused on that, while they are increasing if they can, their savings to pay off debt, there's no chance of a rapid rebound and no chance
12:18 am
of a return to the consumer boom of the previous decade. >> host: right, of course. and also when you think, for instance, about the cost of a college education, and in the united states specifically, the enormous amount of debt ranging from dlsh 10,000-$100,000 that our graduates have, they start already in debt for the thing they have done that is supposed to enable them to live the good life, enjoy the good life. let's talk a little bit about religion since you were talking about it. you talked about the chief advantage that the west had over the rest until the last 50 years or so, and k of course, as you point out as others failed to point out, a huge exception to this, the jews who have been accused of a lot of things historically, but never of being lazy, so obviously protestant
12:19 am
christianity to be a part of the work ethic ask not a -- it's not either necessary or sufficient, but i'd like to ask you, this is a little -- you're a thinker and historian, but not a theologian i don't think you claim to be, but i always wondered about this. how do you explain the connection first in scottland in northern europe and later in america new england from the 17th century on from orthodox and work ethic. the major them in the hayday from the beginning was predestination that absolutely nothing one does on earth affects one's ultimate chances of obtaining salvation. i wondered how this correlates with work. just as a thinker rather than an expert theologian, what's your theory? >> guest: i don't have skin in the game because i was brought up an atheist, brought up in a
12:20 am
calvinist part of the world. >> host: a lot of them. >> guest: i sure was. i think the atheism i was taught at home was a calvinist framework without god, so i, perhaps i shouldn't be quite so distanced from the subject. the point that is made in the famous essay is that the way in which call -- calvinists and others and although the point is correct, notionally all predetermined who was damned, saved, and who was not, in practice, people in calvinist communities particularly were encouraged to behave in ways that so to speak advertised their godliness to their neighbors, and so the behaviors, hard work, cleanliness, thrift, were associated with asserting your
12:21 am
membership of the elect in a rather subtle way, and if you go to geneva in the hayday of calvinism, what you encounter are communities of self-policing godly people, whose business lives, private lives, and religion lives are in a network of mutual support and mutual policing. that's the historian's answer that this was the kind of powerful network affect, and these communities prospered because of this, and especially when they were operating as minorities, and here we see where the parallels with the jews become so compelling. you're right in what you say that there's a huge hole in the argument trying to argue what he says does not apply to the jews because the jews don't have the right kind of work ethic. this is obviously rubbish.
12:22 am
what is interesting is protestant and jewish minorities and minorities generally seem to have had a powerful work ethic and also a powerful sense of trust within the community which turns out to be an advantage in financial services because having -- what a find is it's not specific to religion because you can see chinese minorities operating this way in asia and elsewhere. being a minority with a common sense beliefs gives you the advance because you have more trust than average. that's a powerful tool. the other part of the story, which i think is, for me, more important, is that protestants had literacy. they say from the outset, we have to read scripture ourselves, not mediated by a priest or in latin, but in a
12:23 am
language we understand, and it is the man who harnesses the power of the printing press, the new technology coming in germany and turns it into an engine for having a whole new way of educating people, and the impact is dramatic because everywhere protestantism comes, it's marked with literacy. there's the printing press appearing in the protestant communities first used to publish the bible, and then to publish off a bunch of other things beside. my conclusion in civilization is it's not so much the work ethic with, but the work ethic that is important, and that's true also of judiaism. that's a good as an answer as i can give to the question. i come from scotland, a curious
12:24 am
history. if you had gone to scotland early in my story, say in the late 16th and early 17th century, when the calvinists were really taking control, and i imagine it was rather like tehran not long after the islamic revolution, but intoller rapt and an awful society to be a part of. the levels of intolerance of even having fun were amazingly high. this was the extreme case of puritanism, and yet in that same city, within a century, you had one of the greatest flowerings of thinking, the enlightenment, of all time, the city that produces adam smith and all of his contemporaries, probably the greatest generation of intellectuals the west has ever
12:25 am
seen. something extra ordinary happened there which is not yet fully explained that got it from its calvinist phase to the dazzling hayday on the space of 150 years. >> host: they all were looking for consumerism, something better, and so they had to develop a whole sets of economic and libertarian theories to justify all of the trade and exposure to the outside that that would need. >> guest: they play no role in my book whatsoever. >> host: of course, you're talking about the scottish enlightenment. let's move to another nastier topic. one of the most fascinating chapters in the book to me was the chapter on medicine, and i was utterly enthralled by your discussion of the use in colonial research and imperial areas of jew jenics, and
12:26 am
eugenics research, a perversion of the dark side of western medicine, but you made an obvious saying the scientifically uneducated as enthusiastically of people today accept manmade global warming, but it was not the scientifically uneducated i don't think who accepted eugenics, and in most instances it's the scientifically highly educated people from england and spencer who had more influence in america than he ever did in england to our own margaret sanger, the champion of birth control. they considered eugenics as gospel, the absolute superiority of certain white northern races. doesn't this say something about one big weakness? retrospeckively, but in the proud tower of western civilization, which is relating
12:27 am
to what you say about today, the use of scientific sounding, pseudoscience to prop up really irrational and unscientific beliefs. >> guest: the point i was trying to make there was just to remind people how mainstream and how widely accepted racial theories like eugenics were a hundred years ago, and this is not some german phenomena, but deeply and well established in the english speaking world, and it was as widely accepted as true and somehow progressive of climb change today, not to say those theories of climate change are wrong as the theory -- that's not the point, but the point is i want people to realize they felt then as certain about racial theory as
12:28 am
most people today feel certain about climate change. that's the point, to get you into that mind set you feel as sure that we have a massive problem of racial degenerational or whatever it is as we feel today that we have a problem of manmade climate change. the point being that there is a very dark shadow side to western descending, but that's a critical point that not all readers or reviewers grasp. the whole point i'm trying to make when i use a term like "killer app" is there's an am biff lance to the -- ambivalence to the story, and certain of doing great good in the first part of the chapter talking french doctors in west africa genuinely improving life expectancy and conquering or partially conquering the great infectious disease that make the tropics so dangerous, but the same scientific puns, the ones
12:29 am
that produce the broadcast -- breakthrough in bacteria also have pseudoscience. for many people, for non-scientists, it was impossible to tell which science was good and bad. you can be as sure the cure for cholera was found, but at the time 100 years ago, that kind of theory could have the same respectability in the same status as robert's work on the causes of cholera. that's the point. >> host: right. i'd like to know also if you think -- if you think that secularism has played any role in eroding the work ethic. i personally don't see a correlation because some of the most religious countries in the world in latin america and the middle east, for instance, are also among the poorest whereas china and japan the rate of belief in god is lower than in
12:30 am
secular europe. >> guest: i think there's a correlation in this sense that in many parts of the christian world, and in particular in europe, there's been a correlated decline in work measured in all kinds of different ways, but let's say working hours per year, and a more or less simultaneous decline in religious brief and observance, and the first time i started to think and write about this, i merely pointed this correlation out half ironically to say, well, perhaps max was right after all, and that there really was a link between religion and the spirit of capitalism. now, this was ironic, and i think more than half ironic because it doesn't apply in the united states. >> host: right. >> guest: and therefore most
12:31 am
theories about what has caused the decline of christianity in europe tend to break down because whatever we attribute it to, say the sexual revolution or materialism or you name it, all of these things happened in north america, too, and so it's actually really hard to explain that divergence divergence. why is it europe is much more secular than the united states when all the same modernization process, all the exposures that i discuss in that chapter have occurred on both sides of the atlantic? i think the best explanation of this eludes to another point in the book. the competition in the united states between religious denominations is as intense as the competition in the united states as any economic sector. you only have to travel in the bible belt to get a sense of how hard these different evangelical sects compete for market share. they have to fill the big
12:32 am
churches otherwise the church goes bust. it's simple as that. nothing like that exists in europe where religion is state monopolies, and like all monopolies, the established churches of the protestant europe have essentially declined, and if not fallen off a cliff since the 1960s or there about, and the most lively religious scene you get in britain is, in fact, evangelicals who are better at getting people into church on a sunday or any other day of the week. >> host: yes, well, it's interesting. one thing it true here though that right wing evangelical christianty are competing for a market share in the states that have the lowest number of high school graduates, the lowest proportion of college graduates that is interesting, but this is your interview. what i like most about your book is the catalog of inventions in
12:33 am
scientific advances great and small. you have a truly staggering time line of important inventions and scientific ideas in the 17th century beginning with the telescope? 1780 and a publication of the newton's law of gravitation. what stunned me is the excerpt of robert hook's micrograph which i never read and refers to telescopes and microscopes and concludes, and i want to read it for the television audience because it's so amazing, and no one has used this in a book that deals with other things as you have. he wrote, "as at first mankind fell by tasting of the forbidden tree of knowledge, so we their posterity could be restored in the same way, not only by holding and contemplating, but tasting two of the fruits of natural knowledge that were never yet forbidden. from hence the world is assisted
12:34 am
with varieties of inventions, no matter for sciences to be collected, the old improved and the rust rubbed away." this is just an astoppedding statement, one which preachers of orthodox religion, then, must have regarded with absolute horror. >> guest: what's exciting about the scientific revolution, and, remember, you're talking to a son of a physicist and brother of a sis -- physicist, what is exciting is the sense you got from hook in the passage. they know what a revolution they are creating. they know the power of the new knowledge and new methods pioneered at institutions like the royal society, and they know that the world will never look the same again once they are done. this, for me, was one of the most exciting chapters to write. how you get from -- >> host: just wonderful. >> guest: to get to what he is
12:35 am
saying to a century and a half later to hook is an amazing leap. >> host: 150 years is all. >> guest: in that space it goes from printing the bible and sermons to printing extraordinary and revolutionary texts on the natural world. think of it. the 17th century scientific revolution happens in a very confined space. the network is essentially western europe, and not all of it. it's actually it's a hexagon shape you can draw around a part of europe that embraces central scotland include northern italy, not southern italy, come up to the german border and parts of scanned scandinavia. within that space, an amazingly short space of time, there's a great breakthroughs about the movement of the planets down to the circulation of human blood and further down with hook and his microscope into the realm
12:36 am
that up until that point had been invisible to human beings. now, because this only happened in the west and didn't have anywhere else, despite that what was achieved by islamic and chinese civil -- civilization before there, the west -- >> host: they cut themselves off. >> guest: in the case of a world with a scientific legacy, the printing and systematic exclusion of scientific ideas has a terrible consequence. i mean, if you had to say which of your six killer apps is most important, i come down on the side of number two m i think the scientific revolution just transformed what western human beings can do about every aspect of life. they suddenly have a new intellectual tool, and it's not just the way that these men think about the natural world. it's the way that they perform
12:37 am
experiments so there's a new method pioneeredded by galileo and his successors to form high hypothesis and they share that knowledge. it's that networking that's so crucial. it's not like one trying 20 find the secret way -- >> host: stumble across it. >> guest: turning led into gold, and then keep the secret. what the scientific revolution encourages is polling the knowledge and the race is on to be first, but first to publish. now, that in itself, is a revolutionary idea. >> host: you just mentioned that all of this, from luther who was not exactly the most enlightened fellow in the world or the most open to evidence to hook who says this astonishing thing which is the only way we can have sin is by tasting more of the fruit of the tree j knowledge. returning to ignorance, you said
12:38 am
150 years, don't you think one of the big players in ignorance in western europe, at least england and the united states is the abandonment of history as chronology? you know it took 150 years. you have to know it took place in 150 years to know how amazing it was. as you, yourself, pointed out in your little factoids that something like only a third of graduates of a leading british university know who was the monarch at the time of the spanish armada, and if you have no time line in your head, how can you think of anything properly? >> guest: this book is an attempt to challenge the ways in which history is taught on both sides of the atlantic and to make it a plea to restore chronological frame works to the way that we teach. now, i think this is a bigger problem in the u.k. and u.s. because in the u.k. there's been an almost total break with the great sweep whereas most
12:39 am
american kids are still given a sweep of american history and world history. i don't know how far they absorb it, but they go through it in chronological order, but in u.k., you start with hitler and then henry the 8th, and then you're done with no sense of how things happened and you know literally zero history. that scares me because it seems to me having a sense of time, knowing where we are located in the con continuum of civilization is important and most historical phenomena are un intelligible are impossible if studied in the wrong order. i say if i talk to a young audience, tell me which order these things happened in, and the renaissance, reformation,
12:40 am
scientific revolution, the enlightenment. the french revolution, industrial revolution, the first world war. i just did them in the right orderings but if you jumbled them up and present the average western teenager with those things, a tiny percentage puts them in the right order because that's not the way we teach history. of course, if you don't know the order these things happened in you don't see the causal connections between them, and that's really a big part of what this book is about, it's about exploring causization, a narrative in the sense i tell the story pretty much starting in 1411, 600 years ago, coming down to near yesterday as i could get, and it's arranged in chronological order but trying to make statements about causization and the order in which things happened because i think we need to know that. >> host: i'm not sure i agree with you, by the way, about u.k. being worse than the united
12:41 am
states. a third of our high school graduates placed the civil war in the 20th century. now, how can you know anything, fringe, about -- for instance, about race if you think the civil war took place in the 20th century? >> guest: i think the survey data do show there's almost as big a problem if not as big of a problem as in the u.k.. it's something we should all be concerned about in the english competing world. the other problem is i think there's been a kind of narrative imposed in some classrooms and some texts and by some teachers which is not especially helpful, and that narrative says the west grew to be dominant because it was entirely wicked, and we should study the story of its wickedness from as it were slavery on, if not from earlier acts of wickedness, and the notion that the explanation for the great divergence is
12:42 am
imperialism and empire and characters which is still attractive to people on the left, is, i think, a very distorted reading of history. when i talk about the shadow side, that only makes sense because i'm also talking about the right side, and history has to have both in there, and i do worry about accounts of the past which are almost exclusively concerned with the misdeeds of western empires. the least original thing europeans did after 15th century was empire. one can't attribute too much to imperialism because it was essentially continuing what owl non-western civilizations did for centuries. >> host: it seems to me it's inferred from your book wickedness, too, can only be understood chronologically. >> guest: right, and not seen as the monopoly of western empires, heaven knows there was
12:43 am
dreadful things done at the time that the europeans showed up. i don't think i would have enjoyed living under aztec rule if that was open to me. >> host: your head could have been the corner stone of a temple. >> host: with my luck, yeah. it's an important point. there are -- we all need a narrative, a story line. there's an agreement on that, particularly when learning history for the first time, but part of what i do in civilization is to give a properly balanced narrative in understanding the sense of the west is probably the biggest story in history after 1500. it's something that needs explaning, but it can't be explained exclusively in terms of slavery and exploitation. it's part of the story, but probably not the best explanation for it. i mean, i don't actually think one can explain much in terms of western dissent in terms of the enslavement of africans. as terrible as it was, it's unlikely it had a as big impact
12:44 am
as the industrial revolution or the scientific revolution. >> host: one reviewer made the point that in your book you pay -- you almost completely ignore the rise of the common market in the european union in 0th century euro-- 20 century. do you consider it irrelevant to the larger issue of why civilization is heading now? >> guest: i wrote about it in the past. 23 you go back to 2001, i published a book called the "cash nexus" with an entire chapter on european integration and monetary union and wrote -- >> host: i thought that happened in 1901. >> guest: didn't begin until the 1950s really, and it's a culmination with the union devised in the late 1990, and i used the word "culmination"
12:45 am
dlitly, but my point was this. the monetary union is a step too far, and the system as designed, monetary union without any fiscal federalism breaks down in ten years, which it has, and we are witnessing a process of disintegration going on since the creation of the year row. it was a terrible mistake and hard to unmake that mistake. those interested in my thoughts on that subject go back to the "cash nexus," and in the great scheme, i think the story of european integration rates at most a footnote because it's not -- it's not the big story of post-45. the big story of post-45 is the polarization of the world into two models of western civilization. the one that we think as capitalist and the other one devised by marx and the successors and imitators
12:46 am
establishing itself in moscow. that's the big story of europe post-1945, and i tell that story using a rather nice image, and that's the image of blue gene, and i ask a question which i think is a good question. why was it that the soviet system couldn't make blew -- blue jeans? overalls developed in the united states, but simple to make. it was a sign of the utter failure of that system to be able to manage a consumer society or produce a consumer society that it couldn't even make jeans. >> host: it couldn't, and it couldn't repair apartment buildings. i guess one of the things that makes one feel we're entering an end times scenario as you put it, is the break down of a lot of the kinds of services, which have always been taken for granted in western countries, and this is something one can see even in one's own lifetime, that the level of service and by service, i mean, the repair and upkeep of everything that makes
12:47 am
the western standards of living good has degenerated enormously in the last 40 years. >> guest: but at the same time an incredible technology revolution has been unleashed. >> host: that's the paradox. >> guest: in a sense is leaving much of that traditional infrastructure by the wayside. i mean, i think it's important to recognize before one gets carried away with millionaire visions of the collapse 69 west that there's certain things that still are being done uniquely well in the west, and i mean, here very west, and in silicone valley. if there's one thing that seems to illustrate the power of the killer apps today, it's the extraordinary way in which that part of the west, the western most part, remains the cutting edge of innovation, and it's the combination of competition and science and actually a system that prights intellectual property rights well, and all of those things combined that
12:48 am
produce the extraordinary transformation of communication that is perhaps the biggest story of the last 20 years. >> host: don't you any that there is another side to that too? one being -- i mean, it's a wonderful thing, but the idea that you can just go and pluck out a factoid, which you can very easily now with all of the digital tools we have, but not really know anything about anything about what lies behind us? >> guest: the problem we have is we can now generate as much information in the space of two years as previously generated in the entire history of mankind. this vast data dump that happens every single day is at once an enormous opportunity, but it is also a massive challenge to our powers because our brains are not really that different, evolution has not moved that fast in the space of 4,000 years of civilization. my worry is that particularly
12:49 am
the younger generation who are growing up in this environment of mass distractions with constant bombardments and constant communications can want read "war and peace," and i read that twice as a teenager, and it changed my life, and i keep asking my kids and students do you have the concentration and power to read "war and peace" or will you just not be able to because of the sms messages, the e-mails, and the facebook page and the tweets and the alerts that are constantly bombarding you? since civilization is transmitted by book, more than by any other mechanism, since it's that which transmits the learned accumulated wisdom of one generation to the next, maybe the big danger here is that our communications revolution, our ability to communicate as never before has somehow damaged our capacity to
12:50 am
absorb long sustained works of literary achievement like opus, and that's a great concern of mine. at the end of the book, i say what's our koran? if we take a few texts and privilege them, what should they be? what are the essential books we want everybody to have read? i find myself rather dispairing that this project will never be fulfilled, that we'll never really get to the point when we regard somebody who has not read "war and peace" as inexe fient to -- incompetent to hold high office or is disqualified from presidential elections. we will never get to that point, but the decline of our ability to engage in long reads of big books worries me. >> host: and also the general fact that there is all this information, but information and
12:51 am
knowledge are two different things, and not all of the unfitterred information in the world -- unfitterred information in the world -- >> guest: i quote monk early on in the book who said that in jazz it's not the notes you play, but the notes you don't play, and i hope readers of civilization which is a short book, i think, considering i covered 600 years, i mean, readers will enjoy the notes i don't play, the things that are not there. >> host: you conclude with a stai. that we're our own worst enemy and if we go the way of rome it's because of ignorance of our own institutions of history, a reverse twist on the old 1960s statement, we are the people our parents warned us against. if that's true, and one looks at the 2012 presidential campaign so far in the united states, and
12:52 am
who could deny it in which ignorance is so far paraded as a great virtue, what would have to happen to make us dress our own deficiencies instead of saying either immigration or a class of civilizations as the main problem and our wonderful selfs the bearing no responsibility at all? >> guest: i think this requires a special kind of leadership, leadership which is a very rare thing, the kind that churchill, himself, had. he's an interesting figure for a variety of reasons, but the most important things are one historical knowledge, a man steeped in the study of history, and two, a readiness to tell the people unpopular things that thigh did not want to hear and pay the political price for that as he did in the 1930s in in his wilderness years. that leadership is in short supply on both sides of the atlantic right now, and we have to find that kind of leadership because what we're going to have
12:53 am
to do in the next, not 100 years, but the next 10 years is engage in some pretty thorough institutional reform of the way western civilization works right across the board. you mentioned education. we have a massive problem in our system of public education in the united states. it is not delivering particularly for people in poorer neighborhoods. that has got to be addressed. i think the only way to bring that leadership to the floor is to make people more aware of where we are falling behind, to shatter the complacency that says, oh, relax, in the future, everything will be designed in california, but assembled in china. my book says, no, that's not the future you'll get. the transition from the west to the rest is happening very fast, in realtime, and it represents a challenge not to your grandchildren, but to you today, and if we don't act, if we are complacent, we are going to pay a heavier price than theories of gradual decline lead you to
12:54 am
expect. >> host: if you were a betting man, i recognize in the last chapter of your book something editors have said to me is can't you put something optimistic in there for people to take away, but if you were a betting man, how are things going to go? are we going to continue this decline of chronicalled or are we going to wake up 1234 is it not perhaps a little too late already especially in educational terms? >> guest: i like that churchill line that the united states always does the right thing when all the alternatives are exhausted, and that's my on the mystic note that this is a country that likes a crisis, likes to bring things to the really serious path, and then they get it right. i feel we're still somewhere through that process, not quite at the end of it, but i think at the end of it, we will get it right. i can't say the same for europe, which is one reason i'm here. >> host: but, but as you dpsh as you, yourself, note in your
12:55 am
book, if the barbarians are at the gates, it's too late. one thing you don't mention this obviously you finished this book long before the political silly season started, but the focus of trying to make people think that the problem is without, whether without in terms of immigrants overrunning the borders or without in terms of alien influences like radical islam, isn't simply saying the problem is us, an act of political leadership which has not occurred. >> guest: yeah, i think that's what is needed, the barbarians are us. it's our own uneducated, own dysfunctional families, our own that deprived underclass that we need to worry about. we can't blame the rest for catching up. good luck to them. we can't blame immigrants who want to come here and get away
12:56 am
from the failed institutions in their own countries, but we can do is blame ourselves for failing a generation. i think generational politics matter more in the years to come. the moment the young generation doesn't know what is going to hit it as it has to pay for the indulgences of the baby boomers with higher lifetime taxation rates than the baby boomer had to pay, and i think the younger generation is failed in the unfunded liabilities that will be a mountain on top of them, but failedded in the terms of the pretty poor education that most of them have been given. the elite prospered under our constitutions, but that's not said of the masses. >> host: thank you very much. anyone who reads the book will realize in addition to chronological arguments, there's a good quality, and i know what render pest is, and i'm not going to tell. thank you. >> guest: thank you.
12:57 am
>> that was "after words" booktv's show where authors are interviewed by those familiar with their material. it airs every weekend on booktv at 10 p.m. saturday, 12 and 9 p.m. on sunday, and 12 a.m. on monday. you can also watch it online at booktv.org and click on the series and topics list on the right-hand side of the page. >> december 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy. >> this sunday for 24 hours, american history tv looks at the japanese attack on american military forces at pearl harbor including the 70th anniversary ceremony at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. eastern and live call-in
12:58 am
programs at noon, two, and four with world war ii historians and craig shirley, and throughout the day, first person accounts from servicemen and civilians. this week's national park conference about pearl harbor, a tour of the visitor's center and footage of the attack and aftermath sunday on c-span3's american history tv. >> here's a book with an unusual title part of a series, "obama on the couch" written by justin frank, md, who also wrote "bush on the count". what doctor are you? a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. >> how do you get inside the mind of presidents? >> a technique called applied psychoanimal cyst and apply them to people you can't get in your room.
12:59 am
for instance, freud did that, he was the first one to do that with people likely nare doe and moses, and then fdr hired someone to do that with hitler in world war ii, and it's a very well-established technique of studying famous people by using analytic principles, and obama wrote two autobiographies making it interesting what he put in and left out and how it relates to the behavior as president. >> what's one thing we'll learn about president obama in your book? >> he is deeply obsessed with uniting the country because he came from a broken home, half black and half white, and he wants to heal his insides which is why he became a community organizer. he really believes in bringing people together, and that's the biggest struggle he has because the irony is we're more divided than ever in a lot of ways in in country, and when h

116 Views

info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on