A cogent analysis of dire threats to democracy.

IDENTITY

THE DEMAND FOR DIGNITY AND THE POLITICS OF RESENTMENT

The renowned political scientist argues persuasively, and urgently, that a desire for recognition of one’s dignity is inherent in every human being—and is necessary for a thriving democracy.

Drawing on Luther, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel, among others, Fukuyama (International Studies/Stanford Univ.; Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, 2014, etc.) offers a historical overview leading to the modern concept of identity as comprised of thymos (“a universal aspect of human personality that craves recognition”), a belief in the distinction between the inner and outer self, and an evolving concept of universal dignity. “The broadening and universalization of dignity turns the private quest for self into a political project,” he writes. The author ascribes the contemporary rise of identity politics to a yearning “for equal recognition by groups that have been marginalized by their societies.” These groups, mobilized by political leaders around the idea that their dignity has been disparaged or disregarded, fuel a “politics of resentment.” Fukuyama sees nothing wrong with identity politics, unless “ever narrower group identities” threaten “the possibility of communication and collective action.” When identity groups—seeking recognition on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, or religion—see one another as threats, they will resist identifying themselves with “more integrative national identities” that are essential for democratic societies. Economic modernization and rapid social change shatter a sense of community and lead to “confusing pluralism” that often causes individuals to align themselves with religious or nationalistic groups. “Both nationalism and Islamism,” writes the author, “can thus be seen as a species of identity politics.” He faults the left for failing to build solidarity around large collectivities (the working class, for example), instead focusing on “every smaller” marginalized group. To counter this fragmentation, Fukuyama advises that “successful assimilation of foreigners” might curb vociferous populism, required national service could encourage “virtue and public spiritedness,” and basic civics must become a strong part of public education to foster informed, open-minded citizens.

A cogent analysis of dire threats to democracy.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-374-12929-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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