All this changed over the course of subsequent decades, in large part because thinkers stopped thinking big. Economics is exemplary. It was not so much that Keynes lost ground to Hayek—both, after all, were European idea men shaped by the events of their tragic century. It was instead that the micro usurped the macro. The key figure in this regard is a relatively obscure University of Chicago law professor named Ronald Coase, who in 1960 urged judges not to focus on abstract questions of justice but to decide cases based upon overall economic benefit.President Ronald Reagan is an example of the turn to smallness, "and not just because his economic policies so strongly favored the market." Early in his presidency, Reagan seemed attracted by big ideas such as battling the "evil empire" of the Soviet Union. But, Wolfe writes, "by his second term...darkness at noon had become sunshine 24/7....Cold War Reagan had become have-a-nice-day Reagan....When George W. Bush managed to link his call for a war against terror with the reassurance that no sacrifices would be necessary to fight it, he had precedent aplenty in the speeches of a president who saw 'no need for overcoming, no manacles to be broken, no trial to be endured, no pause in the face of higher law.'"
But the turn from big to small was broader, and historians were in the mix, as they "focused on the conditions of everyday life, eventually leaving the stuff of high statecraft behind." Smallness on the left as well as the right, Wolfe argues "is ugly, and small is now everywhere around us." Wolfe has more to say about this important book here.
LIBERTY'S EXILES: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World by Maya Jasanoff is reviewed in the Washington Post. Pauline Maier writes that this "ambitious, empathetic and sometimes lyrical book"
After the war, when the British offered loyalists land and free passage to other parts of its empire, "Jasanoff describes in emotionally wrenching detail" the "massive evacuation of both soldiers and civilians." Maier writes that the author "skillfully threads the stories of individual loyalists through her narrative as she beautifully describes, one by one, the often inhospitable places they went." Read the rest here.
Also reviewed this week, The Rise and Fall of Ancient Egypt by Toby Wilkinson in the Los Angeles Times; ROMANOV RICHES: Russian Writers and Artists Under the Tsars by Solomon Volkov in the Boston Globe; and THE EXECUTIVE UNBOUND: After the Madisonian Republic by Eric A. Posner and Adrian Vermeule in the New York Times.