What most delights about a New Year is its freshness. Old things are passed away. Except for Sept. 11. That event and its consequences for the individuals who died and the relatives who suffer and the nation that bleeds will remain with us for a long time.
A New Year, especially in light of Sept. 11, offers opportunities to consider old things that became old because they were deemed right and useful and even true. Some will remember truth. It's what most everyone once agreed existed and could be found if pursued.
Rudy Giuliani, the now former, but in our hearts always, Mayor of New York City, alluded to that notion in his farewell address in a church adjacent to Ground Zero last Thursday (Dec. 27). His speech should be mandatory reading in every high school in America for years to come. In it, Giuliani spoke of things that once were considered beyond debate before we arrived at our post -modern, relativistic, feelings before facts New Age.
Giuliani said ideas matter -- ideas that are true, not because he thinks so but because they have proven themselves over time. And he spoke of ideas that have failed, yet continue to have significant numbers of adherents because the people who hold them care more about maintaining power over others than they do about liberty and independence.
Giuliani related how his Italian grandfather had just $20 in his pocket when he left America to return to Italy to pick up his sister. How did he and his sister survive? They survived, said Giuliani, "because they kept thinking about this idea in their head, this ideal of America, America, America." He spoke of their hard work to reach this ideal and how we are (or used to be) tied together by our belief in political democracy, religious freedom, capitalism, a free economy and respect for the rule of law.
These ideas and ideals are being challenged today by a new generation which knows little of sacrifice and believes all ideas are equal and none is to be preferred over another because someone might feel bad and excluded.
Giuliani said if he had taken the advice of the New York Times editorial board and other critics, New York City would be bankrupt.
Instead, the city, which had a $2.3 billion deficit in 1993, now has a surplus of $1 billion and a bright financial future. Crime dropped significantly because Giuliani rejected the advice of his critics and re-invented policing. It worked, while other cities that applied different techniques saw crime increase. Same with new construction, which many opposed, but which has helped renew New York City, expanding its tax base, reducing unemployment and contributing to the city's financial strength. Welfare and homelessness? There were far fewer homeless and welfare recipients under Giuliani's leadership.
"These are ideas," said Giuliani, "ideas that replaced bad ideas." Yes, some ideas are bad, a notion that requires a standard for objective truth, without which they have no meaning. People are hurt, not helped, when they are on welfare. People should work and take care of themselves, not depend on government, which can only help them exist, not find the meaning of life or meaningful work.
In fact, "the kindest, most generous and most loving way to take care of someone is to respect their independence and give them the ability to take care of themselves" said Giuliani.
In his address to Congress Sept 20, President Bush said, "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them."
How can we live by them if the next generation and the one following are not taught what they are? Do they begin with a kind of "pluralism" which says that nothing is always right or always wrong and each person has to make up his or her own mind about truth? Such a principle did not start or sustain America through war and peace, prosperity and depressions.
We must return to debating ideas, their history and their worth. The ones that work should be implemented and embraced. The ones that don't work must be discarded.
A New Year, with its special challenges following Sept. 11, offers a rare opportunity for us to abandon our post modernism and re-embrace...shall we call it "pre-modernism," when everything old can seem new again?