Exemplary political writing by a renowned maverick.

WHAT CAN WE HOPE FOR?

ESSAYS ON POLITICS

Uncollected essays by one of America’s preeminent political philosophers.

If anyone deserves the mantle “America’s Orwell,” it’s Rorty (1931-2007), who combined political activism and sharp observation with a fierce intellectual independence that allowed him to criticize both left-wing and right-wing ambitions. He also had a dependably Orwellian lack of faith that his fellow humans would rise up to defend democratic institutions if it involved sacrificing self-interest. Indeed, as Rorty writes about one notorious apologist for authoritarianism, “People like [Rush] Limbaugh will persuade more and more white males who cannot find a foothold in the middle class that the improvements in the situation of college-educated women, blacks, and gays have been made at their expense.” That proved to be just so, and those resentments, which he considers elsewhere, enabled the rise of the person whom he saw in outline if not in name, the would-be fascist strongman who would undo America’s institutions—which, Rorty wrote in 2004, “have become pretty fragile”—and attempt to install himself as president for life regardless of election outcomes. The author didn’t hold out much hope for democracy when he was alive, and surely he wouldn’t now. He ponders how future historians will interpret an American democracy that lasted barely 200 years, “like the age of the Antonines,” replaced by a “corrupt plutocracy.” Of particular relevance are Rorty’s repeated observations on the effects of economic inequality, in the U.S. and worldwide, which he predicted would lead to resource wars and political instability. He also lands a strong point by noting that because Republicans are reluctant to discuss wealth inequality, they favor igniting skirmishes in a long-fought culture war. Disconcertingly, he adds, “What is more surprising is that the left should let itself be so distracted from its longtime concern with economic redistribution,” suckered into battling those wars instead of keeping its eye on the prize.

Exemplary political writing by a renowned maverick.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-691-21752-9

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Dec. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2022

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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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