Kierkegaard recalls somewhere that Caligula wanted to behead all of Rome. One can almost see his point. The news that comes over the transom is so uniformly bleak, so predictably monstrous, that it cannot but produce this kind of response in any number of men of good will. After all, it is mankind itself that is directly responsible for the awful things that befall it.
As I write this in the shabby comfort of a third-rate hotel in snowbound London, I try to think back on the last 20 or 30 years of my life and see if any glad tidings have ever come my way. I do not mean my private life, as I am congenitally of a cheerful disposition and hence of the opinion that my private life has been a series of miracles. I mean the observed life of mankind, of that troubled multitude whose collective head Caligula wanted to chop off.
No, I don’t think there’s been any positive news at all, and a glance at the week’s headlines in the Sunday papers sustains me in this recollection. The last quarter-century has all been like the week just passed, a thousand or so weeks without any news to retard mankind’s slide into the abyss of concentration-camp conformity, barrack-room hedonism, and cannon-fodder frivolity.
On the internet there are 420 million pages of porn, for which there are 68 million daily search-engine requests. Isn’t it bad news that 87 percent of men, including 58 percent...