‘A period of consequences” is a phrase taken from a 1936 Winston Churchill speech in the House of Commons when he warned, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
Looking at the world in the summer of 2010, it’s clear that we have entered a period of consequences on many fronts.
We’ve been living beyond our means and have failed to come to grips with the problem. The financial crisis has been followed by an irresponsible “stimulus” package that has meant the assumption of more debt, and a financial regulations bill that doesn’t address our core financial problems. A European sovereign debt crisis is bearing down on us as the global economic recovery falters, and our fiscal and monetary policy instruments seem exhausted. Now, we are entering a period of consequences that will require an end to procrastination, and that will necessitate both difficult short-term choices and a fundamental rethinking of a host of government programs and the very structure of our fiscal and monetary policies.
We’ve allowed — nay, in many cases encouraged — our government to become unlimited in its goals, bloated in its size and arbitrary in its action. In this respect, Obamacare is more the culmination of decades of policymaking than a deviation. We’ve indulged in the fatal conceit that we can ask the state to attend to all our cares and invite the government to correct all our perceived problems, without considering either the counterproductive practical consequences, the enfeebling of the private sector, or the undermining of our capacity for self-government. Now, we are entering a period of consequences. Restoring the idea and practices of limited, energetic self-government will require more than half-measures.
We’ve hoped that the world would remain reasonably peaceful, friendly and civilized while skimping on our defense budgets and our military forces. More recently, we’ve signaled weakness to friends and enemies alike. We’ve pretended that happy talk and “soft power” would suffice in dealing with the hard truths of dictatorships, terror, fanaticism and weapons of mass destruction. Now, we are entering a period of consequences, which will require rejecting soothing and baffling expedients and instead demanding strength and conviction on behalf of freedom and civilization.
We’ve allowed our universities to become politically correct, our media to become juvenile and our entertainments to become ever-more adolescent — and then we wonder why we’re baffled by the difficulties we have as a society in being candid, serious and grown-up. Now, we are entering a period of consequences in which delaying the decay is no longer enough, and in which the countercultural and reconstructive cultural efforts that are under way will not only have to be intensified, but will have to make a difference quickly.
The British economist and businessman Josiah Charles Stamp is said to have remarked, “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” Stamp, along with his wife and son, was killed in London in 1941 during the Blitz. Those deaths, and tens of millions of others, were the result of decent people seeking for too long to dodge their responsibilities and to evade the consequences.
William Kristol is co-editor of The Weekly Standard, where this piece originally appeared.