here is no denying that we live in disturbingly anxious and contentious times. Apocalyptic assertions, profanity-laden tirades, public shaming tactics, and crude weapons of moral accusation have increasingly taken the place of rational discourse and the steadfast rule of law. There is something ominous in the air, a faint but unmistakable scent of dissolution. Even before the shamefulness of the Afghanistan debacle, still unfolding as I write, there has been a growing and justifiable disgust with the self-serving incompetence of our leadership classes, and a sense of resignation to a future of ever-growing polarization and irreversible diminution of our national self-understanding. Hard times give rise to troubled thoughts; and when the hardness of the times is in large part a product of our own folly and improvidence, the thoughts are likely to turn inward, like knives in the brain.