America is a looking glass in which humanity sees itself reflected and, all too often, distorted by fear, envy and resentment. The thrilling prospect of November’s presidential election has already forced the world to think again about American democracy. The stakes are high in this election, and not only for Americans; but it is futile to imply, as some do, that the next White House incumbent should be chosen to please Europeans. At Standpoint, we have enough respect for Americans to trust their judgment, while enlisting the best commentators on both sides of the Atlantic to challenge each other’s stereotypes.
Gerard Baker paints a magisterial portrait of a nation eager to recover an idealism eclipsed by the exigencies of war. It is illuminated on our cover by the ingenious pen of the Israeli artist Noma Bar. The eminent American poet and Islamic scholar, Eric Ormsby, questions our assumptions about the Koran. Since September 11, 2001, one American has been demonised more, perhaps, than any other: Paul Wolfowitz. Now freed of the burdens of office at the Pentagon and World Bank, he reflects on Robert Kagan’s The Return of History, demonstrating a sagacity that may surprise those who took at face value the caricature of him as the evil genius of the Bush administration.
Not all the ideas that arrive from the US are welcome: among them those of George Soros, whose dire forecasts the British have venerated for oddly masochistic reasons, ever since his speculations forced sterling out of the exchange rate mechanism in 1992. Here, Tim Congdon debunks Soros’s jeremiads: there will be no Great Depression, he says — not even a little one.
But most transatlantic cultural imports are taken to heart for better reasons. Ian Bostridge explains how on long singing tours he keeps his sanity by watching The Sopranos, detecting affinities between the American mobster family and Mozart’s Idomeneo. Peter Whittle finds Prince Caspian, the latest Hollywood adaptation of C.S. Lewis, both faithful to the original and — somewhat unexpectedly — uplifting in its celebration of distinctively stoical English virtues.