- Historic Sites
A True Capacity For Governance’
Despite his feeling that “we are beginning to lose the memory of what a restrained and civil society can be like,” the senior senator from New York—a lifelong student of history—remains an optimist about our system of government and our extraordinary resilience as a people
October/November 1986 | Volume 37, Issue 6
Oh, probably. There are probably more Marxists in American universities than there are in Russian universities. It’s a nineteenth-century idea that just isn’t so. The Leninist state has great durability, but—
But it commands fear and not loyalty?
I don’t want to exaggerate, but as we said at the beginning of this interview, at the turn of the century everyone expected democracy to be the prevalent form of government. Well, in 1950, an awful lot of people in the world, like the intellectuals in France, assumed that Marxism would be the future. Nobody thinks that now.
Finally, Dad, do you believe that there are patterns in history, or certain principles or laws to which history conforms?
No, but there is so much to be acquired in the way of judgment by simply knowing about the experience of the past. If you observe the patterns of human behavior and learn certain kinds of prudence, you can justify a kind of elemental optimism. I came of age in a hugely confident, successful American society. As I’ve grown older I am somewhat less confident and see fewer prospects. Yet the most important thing is that in all those years all the really awful things that could have happened didn’t. That’s something to keep in mind.