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New Left Review 61, January-February 2010


Gopal Balakrishnan

SERMONS ON THE PRESENT AGE

Deliverance from Republican rule in 2008 was heralded at home and abroad as the end of America’s darkest hour of reaction. In one respect, the change was undeniable. As the face of us power, it might be hard to imagine a more striking contrast to Bush and his Vulcans than the serene and visionary Obama, personifying in the eyes of many a moral heritage squandered by the outrages of unilateralism. Once again, the city on a hill had adjusted to a new historical situation, earning the credit of a world that had recently been blown off course by the arrogance and greed of ‘the other America’. In Servius et la Fortune, Georges Dumézil claimed that in archaic Rome and Vedic India such reversals were scripted according to a fixed mythological formula in which a barely legitimate ‘regime-changer’ is deposed by a providentially elected outsider, a mediator who magically restores the façades of civic tradition, but otherwise sticks to the course. America, of course, looks elsewhere for its constitutional parables. Liberal pundits were inclined to see the result in nearly providential terms, as a sign of the country’s untapped capacities to ward off imperial decline, financial catastrophe and the inherited racial divisions of the body politic. Naturally, a change of this magnitude would be accompanied by a realignment of policy ideals and precepts, to set the tone for the advent of a more introspective, less strident brand of leadership.

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