Things That Matter is a collection of Charles Krauthammer’s extraordinary writings over the last 30 years. For those of us who have admired Krauthammer from the moment we first read him–and for a younger generation, from the moment they first watched him on Fox News–this volume has obvious appeal. It’s a marvelous, and at times quite moving, collection.
But in the end I couldn’t. For a simple reason, the same reason I left psychiatry for journalism. While science, medicine, art, poetry, architecture, chess, space, sports, number theory and all things hard and beautiful promise purity, elegance and sometimes even transcendence, they are fundamentally subordinate. In the end, they must bow to the sovereignty of politics.
Politics, the crooked timber of our communal lives, dominates everything because, in the end, everything – high and low and, most especially, high – lives or dies by politics. You can have the most advanced and efflorescent of cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933 . . . Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns.
In reflecting on the place of politics in the hierarchy of human disciplines, and building on the observations of John Adams, Krauthammer writes, “the glories yielded by such a successful politics lie outside itself. Its deepest purpose is to create the conditions for the cultivation of the finer things, beginning with philosophy and science, and ascending to the ever more delicate and refined arts.” He adds this: “the lesson of our history is that the task of merely maintaining strong and sturdy the structures of a constitutional order is unending, the continuing and ceaseless work of every generation.”