Last month, we published an editorial under the title “A Period of Consequences.” The phrase was taken from a speech in the House of Commons in late 1936 in which Winston Churchill warned: “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

In the editorial, we lamented the procrastination, half-measures, soothing and baffling expedients, and delays that have characterized U.S. policy toward Iran’s nuclear program. We argued that U.S. military action to stop the program was preferable to a nuclear Iran, and urged the Obama administration to keep open (and plan for) the possibility of such action. Reuel Marc Gerecht makes the case in our pages this week that an Israeli strike would also be better than no strike at all. This is certainly the case. Still, American action is preferable, and desirable. 

But looking at the world in the summer of 2010, we’re struck that we have entered a period of consequences on many more fronts than just the Iranian nuclear program. Churchill’s words seem to capture all too many aspects of the present moment.

- We’ve been living beyond our means and have failed to come to grips with the problem. The financial crisis has been followed by an irresponsible “stimulus” package that has meant the assumption of more debt, and a financial regulation bill that doesn’t address our core financial problems. A European sovereign debt crisis is bearing down on us as the global economic recovery falters, and our fiscal and monetary policy instruments seem exhausted. Now we are entering a period of consequences that will require an end to procrastination, and that will necessitate both difficult short-term choices, and a fundamental rethinking of a host of government programs and the very structure of our fiscal and monetary policies.

- We’ve allowed—nay, in many cases encouraged—our government to become unlimited in its goals, bloated in its size, and arbitrary in its action. In this respect Obama-care is more the culmination of decades of policy-making than a deviation from them. We’ve indulged in the fatal conceit that we can ask the state to attend to all our cares and invite the government to correct all our perceived problems, without considering either the counterproductive practical consequences (e.g., Obamacare will make health care less effective and more costly) or the enfeebling of the private sector (crony capitalism turns private businesses into supplicants of the state) or the undermining of our capacity for self-government (federal bureaucrats and federal judges govern us rather than carry out and interpret the laws passed by our elected officials). Now we are entering a period of consequences. To restore the idea and practices of limited, energetic self-government will require more than half-measures.

- We’ve hoped that the world might remain reasonably peaceful, friendly, and civilized—while skimping on our defense budgets and our military forces. More recently, we’ve signalled weakness to friends and enemies alike. We’ve pretended that happy talk and “soft power” would suffice in dealing with the hard truths of dictatorships, terror, fanaticism, and weapons of mass destruction. Now we are entering a period of consequences, which will require rejecting soothing and baffling expedients, and will instead demand strength and conviction on behalf of freedom and civilization.

- We’ve allowed our universities to become politically correct, our media to become juvenile, and our entertainments to become ever-more adolescent—and then we wonder why we’re baffled by the difficulties we have as a society in being candid, serious, and grown up. As C.S. Lewis put it, “We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.” Now we are entering a period of consequences in which delaying the decay is no longer enough, and in which the counter-cultural and reconstructive cultural efforts that are underway will not only have to be intensified, but will have to make a difference quickly.

The British economist and businessman Josiah Charles Stamp is said to have remarked, “It is easy to dodge our responsibilities, but we cannot dodge the consequences of dodging our responsibilities.” Stamp, along with his wife and son, was killed in London in 1941 during the Blitz. Those deaths, and tens of millions others, were the result of decent people seeking for too long to dodge their responsibilities and to evade the consequences.

—William Kristol