Thomas Sowell

In an age that values cleverness over wisdom, it is not surprising that many superficial but clever books get more attention than a wise book like "The Character of Nations" by Angelo Codevilla, even though the latter has far more serious implications for the changing character of our own nation.

The recently published second edition of Professor Codevilla's book is remarkable just for its subject, quite aside from the impressive breadth of its scope and the depth of its insights. But clever people among today's intelligentsia disdain the very idea that there is such a thing as "national character."

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Everything from punctuality to alcohol consumption may vary greatly from one country to another, but the "one world" ideology and the "multicultural" dogma make it obligatory for many among the intelligentsia to act as if none of this has anything to do with the poverty, corruption and violence of much of the Third World or with the low standard of living in the Soviet Union, one of the most richly endowed nations on earth, when it came to natural resources.

"The Character of Nations" is about far more than the fact that there are different behavior patterns in different countries-- that, for example, "it is unimaginable to do business in China without paying bribes" but "to offer one in Japan is the greatest of faux pas."

The real point is to show what kinds of behaviors produce what kinds of consequences-- in the economy, in the family, in the government and in other aspects of human life. Nor do the repercussions stop there. Government policies are not only affected by the culture of the country but can in turn have a major impact on that culture, for good or ill.

Written in plain and sometimes blunt words, "The Character of Nations" is nevertheless the product of a man whose knowledge and experience span the globe, extending into economics, philosophy and other fields, as well as encompassing the wisdom of the ancients and the follies of the moderns.

The book is an education in itself, more of an education than many students are likely to get at an Ivy League college. However, its purpose is not academic but to clarify the issues facing us all today when "the character of the American way of life is up for grabs perhaps more than ever before," as the author puts it.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate