“An Affirming Flame: Meditations on Life and Politics” is journalist Roger Cohen’s new book bringing together some of his best columns. The lengthy introductory essay —almost a mini-book in itself—is an insightful and somber reflection on the multi-interrelated crises urgently confronting America and the world today.
The book discusses the fight to defend America’s openness, democratic institutions, and ideals against the rising tide of retrogression, division, and assault on truth. This struggle, as Cohen writes, is also the world’s. It is inseparable from the battle to save humanity from the creeping autocracy of the twenty-first century. As he writes, “On lies is tyranny built.”
During his years as a columnist, Cohen aimed to hold power to account at home and abroad, in the name of freedom, decency, pluralism, and the importance of truth and dissent in open societies. He watched with alarm as the outside threat of 9/11 morphed into the internal threat of January 6. This time, the assailants were not jihadi terrorists; they were American white supremacists and seditionists convinced of American decadence but unable to see that they personified it. The threat to American democracy is clear says Cohen.
Cohen dissects this ominous American fracture. He explores themes of displacement, belonging, and his own imperiled craft of journalism. His examination of the rising tide of authoritarian rule takes him to China, and in Kyiv he sees the devastating impact of Vladimir Putin’s Russian nationalism. With its trenchant consideration of the plight of refugees, COVID-19, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the war in Afghanistan, Cohen’s writing is riveting and reflects his belief –affirming flame—in the unquenchable human quest for dignity.