Today’s pundits and politicians love to tell us that America is in decline. Michael Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Patrick Buchanan,
Bill Clinton, and even philosophers like Allan Bloom and Noam Chomsky work to persuade us that America has lost
its way. But this message is nothing new. From the earliest moments of North American settlement people have been
preaching American downfall, yet this “jeremiad” – the use of the theme of downfall named after the biblical
Book of Jeremiah – “does not invite discussion. It is not designed to create debate. It preaches to the converted,
or at best draws in those who have not considered the issues before and are ready to be converted.” So writes
Mark Jendrysik, author of the book
Modern Jeremiahs: Contemporary Visions of American Decline."
On this episode of WHY? we will talk about the political uses of jeremiad and ask whether it contributes to truth and
citizen-participation, and we will investigate its role in manipulation and fear-mongering. Why is this
negativity so popular and why does Jendrysik believe that civilizations need Jeremiahs, even if people
rarely heed them? Is jeremiad anti-philosophical?
Mark Stephen Jendrysik is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and Public Administration
at the University of North Dakota. He has published and presented papers on early modern political thought,
public opinion methodology, ethnic politics in the United States, utopian political theory, and contemporary
American political thought. He is also the author of
Explaining the English Revolution: Hobbes and His Contemporaries.
Why?’s host Jack Russell Weinstein says “this issue is tremendously important as North Dakota is itself awash in modern
jeremiahs. Even our own Senator Byron Dorgan’s books Take This Job and Ship It and Reckless are variations
on the theme of American decline. Mark’s astute and wry analyses of the American political system never
fail to engage his audience, and his unique voice is both engrossing and entertaining.”