Peggy Noonan notes in her weekend column that President Obama’s SOTU address worked in a name for the new program – in the tradition of the “New Deal” or Kennedy’s “New Frontier. For the Obama administration, it is the New Foundation. She is skeptical:
They’ve chosen a phrase for the president’s program. They call it the “New Foundation.” They sneaked it in rather tentatively, probably not sure it would take off. It won’t. Such labels work when they clearly capture something that is already clear. “The New Deal” captured FDR’s historic shift to an increased governmental presence in individual American lives. It was a new deal. “The New Frontier”—we are a young and vibrant nation still, and adventures await us in space and elsewhere. It was a mood, not a program, but a mood well captured.
“The New Foundation” is solid and workmanlike, but it attempts to put form and order to a governing philosophy that is still too herky-jerky to be summed up.
I am equally skeptical, but my interest here is a different one. We here at Volokh Conspiracy tend to be well aware of the Foundation novels – only too aware, possibly. But I recall reading here or somewhere that Paul Krugman and several other leading economic and legal academic-policymakers had come to their professions wanting to be … Hari Seldon. Deeply attracted to the idea of a mathematically-based psychohistory. Certainly includes me. I am the son of a physical scientist; I spent my early years playing with dangerous chemicals in my father’s lab. But from the time I read the Foundation books, I was lost to physical sciences – I wanted the vision of a science of mass behavior.
This is not a liberal versus conservative thing although, it bears noting, nothing about Asimov’s Foundation vision suggested anything very liberal or libertarian. It was all galactic social engineering. At least so far as I could ever tell. However, it does lead me to wonder whether any obscure, deeply buried, unconscious Jungian archtype of the Foundation entered somehow into this New Foundation framing. This is an administration of academics, in love with design and social engineering, not so much the execution and carry-through part. Yeah, yeah, the social engineering is supposed to be all nudgy and liberal paternalism, not coercive and bad. It’s an administration of New Class elites especially in love with its peculiar combination of disinterested technocracy married to the most aggressive ideological remake of, well, the foundations of American society in a long time, and almost entirely from the top down. But in that case, who is the Hari Seldon of this New Foundation? (Alert commenter says, more important … “Who is the Mule?”)
Well, at least the SOTU catchphrase was not … Second Foundation! Although, for all we know, it might have started out, before the rewrite as … Foundation and Empire. I don’t have one of those clever poll apps, so let me just ask our readers:
If you had to pick a catch phrase among the following that most accurately described the administration and its program, which of the following would it be?
- New Foundation,
- Foundation and Empire,
- Second Foundation
- Or some other Foundation series related theme. Please try to keep ideas for names within the Foundation universe, or anyway no broader than Asimov era “classic sci fi.”
Update: An alert commenter observes that although the term New Foundation appeared in 2009 in the administration’s issue framing, sufficient to spark a NYT article on it, the term doesn’t seem to actually appear in SOTU, at least on my quick scan. Let me know in the comments if I’m wrong Presumably this is why Noonan phrases it slightly carefully, so as to not say that it did. Anyway, my basic point is the same.
Update 2: Thanks, Glenn, for the Instalanche! It’s a pretty long list of folks in important positions, at least of a certain generation, who are Foundation fans – and some, including my daughter, of the next. Glenn says … ”I’ll note that both Newt Gingrich and Osama bin Laden are supposed to be Foundation fans, for whatever that’s worth . . . .”