What Can the 2020s Learn from the 1920s?

Anti-Prohibition Parade, NYC, 1920s

A lot, according to CUNY historian Ted Widmer.

Here is a taste of his piece at The New York Times:

It has been a long time since the winter of 1920, but the old fault lines are still visible, not only in the United States but around the world. In Turkey, neo-Ottoman ambitions are emerging as the country seeks to enlarge its influence in Libya and everywhere else the sultans once held sway. In Russia, a new czar is all too happy to undermine the West’s quaint belief in Wilsonian self-determination.

Should the United States try to solve these and all of the other vexing problems out there? It has become fashionable to denounce Wilson’s idealism in the century since his crack-up. Obviously, he tried too much, too fast and destroyed himself in the process. But to inhabit a world with no ideals of any kind seems like an invitation to a different kind of crack-up and a return to the earlier history that we were delighted to escape from in 1919.

In the long century since, Americans faced a dizzying array of problems, new and old. When they worked together, they generally solved them. When they retreated into ideological extremes, they generally did not. In “The Crack-Up,” Fitzgerald diagnosed the problem, then offered a formula. If enough readers could “see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise,” then there was always a chance for a new decade to live up to its glittering potential.

Read the entire piece here.