There is widespread agreement among large segments of western society that we are living in a period of hard times. At first glance such a belief might seem exceedingly odd. After all, persons in western society find themselves living in a time of unprecedented material abundance. Hunger and disease, evils all too familiar to the members of earlier generations, although far from eradicated from modern life, are plainly on the wane. Persons alive today can look forward to healthier, longer, and more comfortable lives than those of their grand parents. Nevertheless, the feeling that life today is especially difficult is rampant in government, in the media, in popular books, and in academic circles. Western society is perceived in many quarters as wracked by crises of all sorts-of faith, of power, of authority, of social turmoil, of declining quality in workmanship and products, and of a general intellectual malaise afflicting both those on the Left and the Right. A tone of crisis permeates the language of public life. Editorials in major newspapers are full of dire warnings about the dangers of unbridled egoism, avarice and greed, and the risks and horrors of pollution, overpopulation, the arms race, crime, and indulgent lifestyles.
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