The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris

Tags: Brendon Oconnor, Peter Bienart

25 August 2010

Peter BeinartPeter Beinart, Associate Professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, and the senior political writer for The Daily Beast.

The Icarus Syndrome tells a tale as old as the Greek–a story about the seductions of success. Peter Beinart portrays three extraordinary generations: the progressives who took America into World War I, led by Woodrow Wilson, who for a moment became the closest thing to a political messiah the world had ever seen. The Camelot intellectuals who took America into Vietnam, led by Lyndon Johnson, who lay awake at night in terror that his countrymen considered him weak. And George W. Bush and the post–cold war conservatives, who believed they could simultaneously bludgeon and liberate the Middle East. In each case, like Icarus, America’s leaders crafted ‘wings’–a theory about America’s relationship with the world. They flapped carefully at first, but gradually lost their inhibitions until, giddy with success, they flew into the sun. In each case, new leaders and thinkers found wisdom in pain. They reconciled American optimism with the realities of a world that will never fully bend to their will. In their struggles lie the seeds of American renewal today.

Peter Bienart is associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and former editor of The New Republic. He is the senior political writer for The Daily Beast and a contributor to Time. Beinart is the author of The Good Fight (2007) and The Icarus Syndrome (2010).

This event was co-presented with Sydney Ideas.

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