Gessen is a Suetonius for our time, documenting the death of the old America while holding out slim hope for its restoration.

SURVIVING AUTOCRACY

The National Book Award winner delivers a handbook for an age in which egomania is morphing into autocracy at warp speed.

New Yorker contributor Gessen, an immigrant from what was then the Soviet Union, understands totalitarian systems, especially the ways in which, under totalitarian rule, language is degraded into meaninglessness. Today, writes the author, we are “using the language of political disagreement, judicial procedure, or partisan discussion to describe something that was crushing the system that such terminology was invented to describe.” Against that, Gessen suggests, we now have an administration for which words hold no reality, advancing the idea that “alternative facts” are fine but professing dismay when one calls them lies. The step-by-step degradation of democratic institutions that follows is a modern-day rejoinder to the fact that more than half a dozen years separated the Reichstag fire from World War II. That’s a big buffer of time in which to admit all manner of corruption, and all manner of corruption is what we’ve been seeing: Gessen reminds us about Mick Mulvaney’s accepting handsome gifts from the payday-loan industry he was supposed to regulate and Ben Carson’s attempt to stock his office with a $31,000 dining-room set. Yet corruption’s not the right word, writes the author, since Trump and company are quite open and even boastful about what used to be a matter of shame and duplicity. The real tragedy, it seems, is that they have been so successful in creating what the author calls a “new, smaller American society,” one that willfully excludes the Other. Many writers have chronicled the Trump administration’s missteps and crimes, but few as concisely as Gessen, and her book belongs on the shelf alongside Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny and Amy Siskind’s The List as a record of how far we have fallen.

Gessen is a Suetonius for our time, documenting the death of the old America while holding out slim hope for its restoration.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-18893-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

THE WAR ON THE WEST

A British journalist fulminates against Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, and other threats to White privilege.

“There is an assault going on against everything to do with the Western world—its past, present, and future.” So writes Spectator associate editor Murray, whose previous books have sounded warnings against the presumed dangers of Islam and of non-Western immigration to the West. As the author argues, Westerners are supposed to take in refugees from Africa, Asia, and Latin America while being “expected to abolish themselves.” Murray soon arrives at a crux: “Historically the citizens of Europe and their offspring societies in the Americas and Australasia have been white,” he writes, while the present is bringing all sorts of people who aren’t White into the social contract. The author also takes on the well-worn subject of campus “wokeness,” a topic of considerable discussion by professors who question whether things have gone a bit too far; indeed, the campus is the locus for much of the anti-Western sentiment that Murray condemns. The author’s arguments against reparations for past damages inflicted by institutionalized slavery are particularly glib. “It comes down to people who look like the people to whom a wrong was done in history receiving money from people who look like the people who may have done the wrong,” he writes. “It is hard to imagine anything more likely to rip apart a society than attempting a wealth transfer based on this principle.” Murray does attempt to negotiate some divides reasonably, arguing against “exclusionary lines” and for Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s call for a more vigorous and welcoming civil culture. Too often, however, the author falters, as when he derides Gen. Mark Milley for saying, “I want to understand white rage. And I’m white”—perhaps forgetting the climacteric White rage that Milley monitored on January 6, 2021.

A scattershot exercise in preaching to the choir.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-316202-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Broadside Books/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2022

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A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

LIBERALISM AND ITS DISCONTENTS

The renowned political scientist and philosopher considers classical liberalism and the broad range of enemies arrayed against it.

“By ‘liberalism,’ ” writes Fukuyama, “I refer to the doctrine…that argued for the limitation of the powers of governments through law and ultimately constitutions, creating institutions protecting the rights of individuals living under their jurisdiction.” Born of events such as the English civil war and the Enlightenment, this liberalism also encouraged diversity of thought, religion, and ethnicity, placing it squarely in the crosshairs of today’s authoritarian nationalists, not least Donald Trump. Fukuyama has often been identified with conservative causes, but his thinking here is democratic to the core, and he has no use for such pathetic lies as Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election was stolen. That said, the author notes that liberalism has many enemies on both the left and the right for numerous real yet correctable failings. The neoliberalism that has emerged over the past couple of generations has accelerated inequality, and numerous institutions have been eroded while others, such as the Electoral College, have been revealed to be anti-democratic. Both left and right, the author argues, have trouble accepting that governing over diversity, the hallmark of liberalism, means governing over many ethnic and national groups, strata of income, and competing interests. He adds, however, “Left-of-center voters…remain much more diverse” in political outlook. Essential to a liberal society, Fukuyama insists, is the right to vote: “Voting rights are fundamental rights that need to be defended by the power of the national government.” While he insists that individual rights take precedence over group rights, he also observes that the social contract demands citizen participation. To the conservative charge that the social contract is one thing but the “common moral horizon” another, he answers that yes, liberalism does not insist on a single morality—which “is indeed a feature and not a bug.”

A deceptively slender but rich argument in favor of conserving liberal ideals—and liberal government.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-374-60671-8

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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