Saint and Sinner

HAVING SPENT Thanksgiving weekend on a most memorable retreat with that utterly gentle and powerful prophet Daniel Berrigan, I was shocked to read Michael Novak's small-spirited and presumptuous review of Berrigan's latest book, To Dwell in Peace (Book World, December 27). I was reminded of St. John's words about the gentle and powerful prophet of Nazareth, "He trusted himself to no man because he knew what was in man" (John 2:24-5). Obviously the book was not written for the likes of Novak. To invite this apologist of the status quo to assess the vulnerable and mighty Berrigan's life is a little like expecting the British viceroy in New Delhi to assess accurately the life and efforts of Gandhi in 1940. The review says more about Novak than it does about Berrigan. G. Charles Rhoads McLean, Va.

Power and Glory

EDWARD LUTTWAK, in his seemingly caustic review of Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict From 1500-2000 (Book World, December 27), actually embraces Kennedy's major premise and fallacy: that "the United States is in decline."

This is an unexamined premise; Luttwak baldly calls it "too obvious for serious dispute." Actually it is an optical illusion. And the options it implies -- retreat (Kennedy) or national regeneration (Luttwak) -- are so dangerous and have spread so widely that its assumptions must finally be brought to light.

The central assumption is that "the United States" is a fixed entity. This was the opposite of the truth in the past; the Union grew fundamentally from 1787 to 1912, and again in 1959. It is at best highly deceptive today.

The actual American side -- the American "empire," as Luttwak and Kennedy might call it, or the American confederacy, to use a more realistic term -- has expanded all the way to Bonn and Tokyo. This super-superpower is the most important, if underappreciated, reality in the world. It dominates the world economically and culturally even more than America did in 1945. Its main adversaries, the communist powers, are in economic and cultural rout.

That the old United States of America has slipped relative to the most dynamically growing sectors of this extended United States should come as no surprise. New York has also declined relative to California but no one worries about this, not even New Yorkers: the power and prosperity of New York are only multiplied by the power and prosperity of California.

Everyone is able to see that California is not "the other" but a partner, a part of ourselves. So are Germany and Japan, although their unity with us needs to be consolidated through more visible political institutions.

Nothing could be more ruinous than to go into hysterics today about American "decline"; there could be no more suicidal self-fulfilling prophecy than to treat Japan as a "threat." In an age of deep interdependence, we can ill afford to tear apart our alliances or retreat into feverish doomed programs of national regeneration.

If 200 years ago New York had failed to accept a federal constitution with Union-wide elections, it would be going into hysterics today about "the Californian threat." Today we need only accept a constitution with joint elections with our allies, to lay to rest the bogeys of the national imagination and see things once again in the solid, forward-looking perspective that the actual progress of international democracy warrants. Ira L. Straus Executive Director Association to Unite The Democracies Washington, D.C.

WHAT a bizarre choice Edward N. Luttwak was to review Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers.

Professor Kennedy's work, after all, flows from the realities that no country is omnipotent, and that material resources are not limitless. These truths, he quite reasonably argues, must inevitably circumscribe a nation's foreign policy ambitions.

Dr. Luttwak's review flows from the fantasy that anything and everything is possible; all we need do is roll up our sleeves and "drastically reform society." He would similarly wish away America's needs to achieve some sustainable balance between its goals and commitments on the one hand and its inevitably limited means on the other, writing in 1977, "There is no . . . freedom in determining whether {country} X should be protected at all. The strategic goals of foreign policy are not to be decided by exercises in definition; they are defined for us by the very nature of our country, and by the circumstances of world politics."

Where else but Reagan-era Washington could such a dreamer be mistaken for a strategist? Alan Tonelson Washington, D.C.

EDWARD N. LUTTWAK REPLIES: I cannot account for the choices book review editors make, but I must defend myself against the accusation of being a "voluntarist." The quotation that Mr. Tonelson chooses to cite was in fact specifically a critique of the very voluntarism of which he accuses me. One must refrain from shopworn references to petards. Incidentally, I take the opportunity to correct my omission of a crucial word in the review: "Professor Kennedy is very careful not to argue that the costs of power are inevitably the cause of economic decline." Inevitably was omitted.