The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn:
God’s in His heaven—
All’s right with the world!
—”Pippa’s Song,” Robert Browning, 1841
As momentous events like the NCAA basketball finals and Major League Baseball’s opening day remind us: It’s spring. Which, as bards through the centuries have instructed us, is a good thing. Who are we to quarrel with the poetic wisdom of the ages?
So we welcome spring 2017. And the first thing to note is that, in many respects, all remains well. This nation still enjoys a degree of peace and prosperity, a level of physical and material well-being, perhaps unmatched in human history.
But man does not live by bread and security alone. What about our more spiritual side? Well, consider signs of health from the world of sports. From Villanova’s win at the buzzer in last year’s NCAA basketball championship, through the Cavaliers’ comeback from a 3 to 1 deficit to win the NBA finals, to the Chicago Cubs World Series victory (also after being down 3 to 1), to a thrilling college football championship game, to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history—this past year couldn’t have been better. The only thing that could make it better would be a victory by Harvard’s men’s hockey team in the “Frozen Four” this week. That would be a fitting capstone to an annus mirabilis.
But you ask: Are sports really an indicator of spiritual well-being? I’ll appeal to the authority of Winston Churchill, writing in the second chapter of his great biography of his ancestor the Duke of Marlborough:
It is important to remember also the differences of feeling and outlook which separate the men and women of these times from ourselves. They gave a very high—indeed, a dominating—place in their minds to religion. It played as large a part in the life of the seventeenth century as sport does now.
Do sports not make up much of modern spiritual life?
In any case, to return to spring 2017, one still has to ask: If all is well, why does one sense that all is not well?
It cannot merely be the presidency of Donald Trump—though that is not a heartening sight. It cannot merely be the back-to-back presidencies of Barack Obama and Donald Trump, though their 12 years bid fair to exhibit the twin foolishnesses of shallow elitist progressivism and silly populist nationalism. It cannot even be the 28 years of baby boomer presidencies to which the nation will have been subjected by 2020, as the worst generation charts its feckless and destructive course through the annals of the nation’s history.
One senses something deeper at play. One senses that the much-diagnosed crisis of the West—a crisis of confidence, nerve, and understanding—is upon us. One senses that the valiant attempts of statesmen and intellectuals to deal with this crisis, or at least to avert its most dangerous manifestations, may have run their course. The efforts of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, of Bill Buckley and Irving Kristol, of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Václav Havel were to a remarkable degree successful. All honor to them. Many are the lessons to be learned from them.
And yet here we are—with demagogues as leaders, with a civic culture as superficial as it is complacent, with a domestic liberal order in incipient crisis and a world liberal order hanging on for dear life.
We don’t know why spring, a time of good cheer and rebirth, has brought on these gloomy reflections. Perhaps it’s precisely the coming of spring that makes vivid how un-spring-like our current condition is, how deeply we feel that all’s not right in the world.
Or, as the American doggerel version of “Pippa’s Song” puts it:
It’s spring, it’s spring
The bird is on the wing—
My word, absurd!
The wing is on the bird.
In other words: All’s not right with the world. But nor is all wrong. Nature and politics are what they have always been. The wing remains on the bird.
This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard