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Our civilization is crumbling. Again.

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Seventy years ago this month, a 31-year-old Harvard history professor summarized the political and cultural predicament of the United States and its fellow democracies.

“We look upon our epoch as a time of troubles, an age of anxiety,” Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote. “The grounds of our civilization, of our certitude, are breaking up under our feet, and familiar ideas and institutions vanish as we reach for them, like shadows in the falling dusk.”

The eerie applicability of those lines to 2019 suggests now is a good time to reconsider the 1949 manifesto by Schlesinger in which they first appeared, “The Vital Center.”

If a single volume might be said to encapsulate Cold War liberalism, it would be “The Vital Center.” Could its arguments nevertheless help guide this generation of Americans through their political wilderness?

In a world in which fascism had been defeated, Schlesinger did not pause to savor America’s World War II triumph. He looked ahead to the menace from another totalitarian variant, Soviet communism, and its domestic apologists.

He defined the political center not as a cautious middle way between the ultra-right and ultra-left, but as a “fighting faith” in democracy that could both justify America’s postwar global power and motivate Americans to exercise it.

“Vital,” in his title, conveyed both of its dictionary meanings: necessary and energetic.

Though a New Dealer and a........

© Washington Post