Some say Locke. Some say Calvin. But I say on this Glorious Fourth that "Alice in Wonderland" is the most powerful influence ever felt on this continent.
Lewis Carroll, its author, is the primary intellectual force operative in America since Lincoln.
"I don't think 'Alice' has anything to do with America," whined a friend when I confided this sudden and accurate insight. "In 'Alice' everything is arbitrary and topsy-turvy or else willy-nilly.
"We have our faults as a nation, but we are not upside down."
No? Then perhaps downside up?
I have been reading Rousseau lately,one of the supposed spiritual fathers of America, but I also have been reading the daily papers, and I say it's 'Alice' five to one.
Item 1: The Constitution foresaw the vast danger of treating citizens according to class, educational polish, religious sophistication, ethnic probable origin and so on. You cannot bar the Irish, say -- not even the Boston Irish -- from the inalienable rights of freeborn Americans.
Therefore the Supreme Court now concludes the Constitution means government contracts should be awarded (or may be awarded) on the basis of race as a determining element.
The reasoning, one is enchanted to notice, is straight out of "alice in Wonderland," although the chief justice's prose, alas, is not.
Item 2: Arthur J. Goldberg, sometime associate justice of the Supreme Court and ambassador to the United Nations at the time the Security Council's resolution, No. 242, was passed, has recently clarified (possibly not for the first time) what is meant by that resolution's provision that Israel withdraw from "occupied territories."
People commonly misunderstand this, supposing it means Israel is expected to withdraw from occupied territories, Goldberg explained. It does not say Israel should withdraw from "the" occupied territories or from "all" occupied territories. Indeed, this "ambiguity" of phrasing is one reason the resolution passed in the first place. "It seemed to mean nothing so nobody objejected to it.
Still, Goldberg must grieve that yokels get the meaning all wrong.
Without speculating on the true (if secret and mysterious) meaning of the resolution, I guess that if it does not mean "the" territories or "all" territories, then perhaps it may mean "some" territories? If so, how much is "some?" An acre? Half an acre?
I do not presume to say what meaning, if any, the resolution may have, My point is something else:
Alice in Wonderland would surely approve.
It's an art, in one set of words, to let the Arabs think Israel is called on to get off the West Bank, and to let Israel think they don't have to do that except, oh, maybe a hectare.
And only in "Alice" would a negotiator glory in a phrase so susceptible to mischief.
In "Alice" a word means precisely what a character intends for it to mean, no more and no less. And Resolution 242 means whatever anybody at all intends for it to mean, no more and no less.
Return to Jail. Do not pass Go. And lots of luck.
Item 3: The school system of the capital is not very good, some people whimper. Its pupils are said not to be learning as much as they should, judging from test scores. Mercy, is something wrong with our schools?
Solution: Try closing down the best ones. Do not under any circumstances authorize a new school that might raise academic standards.
Item 4: A certain unknown number of American women cannot afford abortions, yet an unknown percentage of that number may die if the woman is not delivered well before the natural term.
A Solution: Since very few Americans are directly involved, why not turn it into a Grade A dilemma, stirring up all known opinions about God, motherhood, contraceptives, cannon fodder, diet and big government. Then turn the fan on. It's the American way.
Item 5: There's too little rental housing available to people who are not rich, isn't there?
Solution: See to it there is even less next year, by penalizing landlords.
If, through their disgusting greed, they resist losing money on their investments, perhaps more people should be hired by the government to lecture them.
Item 6: Arnold Schwarzenegger, he who pumps iron, speaks of the American Dream in this month's Inside Sports, a rag that's as grassy-rooted as any institution in the nation:
"I then started taking business courses because that's what America is best known for: business. Turning one dollar into a million dollars in a short period of time . . . A few people thought I was cold, selfish. Later they found out that's not the case. After I achieve my goal I can be Mr. Nice Guy. You know what I mean?"
He has discovered California:
"California to me is a dreamland. It is the absolute combination of everything I was looking for. It has all the money in the world, show business, wonderful weather . . . you have beautiful people there. They all have a tan . . . .
"I am a strong believer in Western philosophy -- success, progress, getting rich. A beautiful philosophy; America should keep it up."
Another big thinker heard from Though it's Alice, not Arnold, who still reigns as guru-in-chief.