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To Renew America.

Newt Gingrich says that Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History and Isaac Asimov's Foundation Trilogy are the pivotal works that focused his attention on the fate of civilizations. Toynbee's thesis, known as "challenge and response," argues that every civilization sooner or later encounters a challenge that threatens its very existence. At that point, the vital questions center on whether the leadership is up to the challenge and how they respond. Asimov, in the Foundation Trilogy, took the Fall of Rome and turned it into a science fiction novel in which the Roman Empire becomes the Galactic Empire. "The Foundation" represents a secular group of individuals who play a role comparable to that of the Catholic Church when it maintained civilized knowledge during the Dark and Middle Ages. The Foundation scholars can not stop the Empire's decline but they gather knowledge and teach it to small groups in order to limit the Dark Ages and bring about a Renaissance.

In To Renew America, Newt Gingrich seeks to respond to the challenges that he feels threaten our society, and to provide us with the proper knowledge that will bring about a modern day Enlightenment. These are admirable goals and Gingrich has reduced our need to think about them in any detail by a "follow the numbers" type scheme. In his book we are told there are five basic principles which form the heart of our civilization; eight steps needed to improve opportunities for the poor; six major changes necessary to leave our children with an America that is prosperous, free, and safe; seven steps needed to solve the drug problem; five major distinctions between "Second" and "Third" wave education; and ten deeply felt desires of the American people known as the "Contract with America."

Gingrich is an optimist and his optimism and political savvy have produced impressive results. During the 1994 campaign, he and his Republican colleagues promised bold changes, and they delivered. Within his first hundred days of leadership he steered a course of reform unprecedented in this century. Time magazine named him Man of the Year for shaping and focusing our political direction and discourse. But the discourse is one which tolerates little subtlety or nuance. Gingrich admits to only two choices: either we renew our society according to his dictates or we decay. There is, he declares, "virtually no middle ground."

According to the general semantics literature, we should maintain a sensitivity to the pitfalls of "either-or" reasoning. Such reasoning may lead to a problem-solving approach that H.L. Mencken once described as, "quick, simple, and wrong." Newt Gingrich, in To Renew America, offers solutions that are certainly quick and simple. And by not recognizing that social and political problems tend to be detailed and complex his solutions may be quite likely wrong.
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Author:Levinson, Martin H.
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1996
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