Once, this nation took for granted that its power in the world depended on the sway of the American idea â€” liberal democracy, freedom, opportunity, equality. But in the middle of the 20th century that changed, a move away from influence to imposition. Power came from an arsenal, and ultimate power from a nuclear arsenal. Todayâ€™s Pentagon budget is at Cold War levels without the Cold War because we Americans no longer believe in the power of our own idea. But military power is an illusion, as Iraq shows, like Vietnam before it. Resisting populations cannot finally be coerced, only killed. Meanwhile, nuclear weapons still threaten the environment more than anything.
Global warming can prompt a terrible fatalism, as if forecast catastrophes are certain to befall the planet. But the future is not an extension through time of what is already perceived. Thatâ€™s the point of revised thinking about everything from nature to power, since history shows that thought is the soul of creativity, and therefore of creation. Human choices brought the earth to this brink of ultimate harm, and human choices, informed by changed ideas, can rescue it.