Holtzbrinck Fellow - Class of Fall 2009
Journalist, The New Yorker
George Packer is a staff writer for The New Yorker and the author of The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, which received several prizes and was named one of the ten best books of 2005 by The New York Times Book Review. He is also the author of two novels, The Half Man and Central Square, and two works of nonfiction, The Village of Waiting and Blood of the Liberals, which won the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. He is the editor of The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the World, and of a two-volume edition of George Orwell’s essays. His play Betrayed, based on a New Yorker article, won the 2008 Lucille Lortel award for best Off-Broadway play. His most recent book, Interesting Times: Writings from a Turbulent Decade, was published in the fall of 2009. He was a Holtzbrinck Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin in 2009.
American Academy Project
Enlightenment and War
For his project at the Academy, Packer will be working on a set of essays exploring a recurring paradox in American history: the justification of war by enlightenment values. His most recent example is the American invasion of Iraq, but his essays will reach as far back as Jefferson’s vindication of the French Revolution’s Terror, and Lincoln’s glorification of the massacres of the Civil War in the name of the Declaration of Independence’s promise of equality. Finding himself caught between two seemingly irreconcilable recognitions – that the liberal values of the Enlightenment remain indispensable, and that something chronic in American character and history produces their opposite – Packer’s goal is to find out whether and how these values can be rescued from the violence seen in Iraq today.
At his Holtzbrinck lecture at the American Academy, Packer spoke to the idea of the grander American mission, about the worried course of American exceptionalism, and how its language had become burdened by the ethereal, weightless abstractions of the George W. Bush Administration. This is one reason, Packer says, that the Obama Administration has buried talk of human rights, freedom, and democracy into speeches’ later paragraphs, such as the one the President gave in Cairo in June. Afghanistan has challenged the motivational language of war. »