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Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values
Liberty in the Age of Terror: A Defence of Civil Society and Enlightenment Values
by A. C. Grayling
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars and the solution is..............?, 11 April 2010
This book is a polemic, so the measure of it should be the extent to which it convinces. The case made is that enlightenment values represent the best way for human beings to order their societies, but that such values need to be actively defended. Society should not tolerate multiculturalism where it impinges on these core principles. Religion and totalitarianism are the main threats.

So far so good, but I felt the author understated the difficulties in handling the gray area where the exercise of free speech may lead to real harm (using the example of shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre). This led me on to some dissatisfaction with other aspects of the book where the author is asserting the direct applicability of enlightenment values today. In particular, I did not see many ideas about how you deal with the massive erosion of the right to privacy, given that the technological drivers for greater governmental intrusiveness are irreversible.

At its heart, the book gives quite an elitist assessment. The author notes the widespread sense that people are no longer interested in civil rights, but the real problem that is of concern is the loss of commitment among intellectuals. This section of the book is quite difficult to follow if, like me, you are not well-versed in political philosophy.

The author clearly makes the case that our rights in Britain should be better and more-formally protected. His take on the international dimension is much harder to accept as a political reality since, he seems to say that we have every reason to promote our values since they are objectively the best, but this should not be done (for example) in the manner of the invasion of Iraq.

Multilateral inter-governmentalism is the preferred route, with all its flaws. What is unclear is how or why this system should take on the values developed over the past two centuries in Europe and the US. The multilateral role becomes even more problematic because as the author himself notes, the UN Declaration of Human Rights contains both classic political rights and economic rights This latter group of rights considerably increase the ambition and scope of a rights-based approach and raise questions about economic governance and global redistribution of wealth which are dealt with in a rather cursory way


Gilead
Gilead
by Marilynne Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very rewarding read, 11 April 2010
This review is from: Gilead (Paperback)
I chose this book for our book club and split the group almost in half between those that loved it and those that couldn't even finish it. It is slow, but for me, there is a virtue in the pace in that it mirrors the human thought process with all its tangential and intuitive aspects. This is the quality that is called rambling and other less-complimentary terms in other reviews. You will know in a couple of pages if it is for you or not.That is an element in the book's appeal - it follows the thoughts of a reflective man leading a quiet life in a very quiet town. Only one real-time "event" takes place in the whole book, although the present is highly-influenced by past events. The process of confrontation and forgiveness which makes up the event is dealt with at length (like everything else in the book). In another novel, it would have occupied two pages.

You can see how John Ames uses his religion as a tool to interrogate his feelings about the world around him. Quite apart from whether that makes it a good novel or not, it provides an interesting point of reflection on the role of belief as a guide to life. The central message is about the power of reflection and perhaps that the more reflective we are, the less likely we are to seek to shape the world around us.


Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq
by Stephen Kinzer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.86

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Are all empires the same?, 17 Jan 2010
I would highly recommend this book, but do not expect a wholly objective study.

Whether or not the belief is well-founded, most imperialists have believed that their actions could be justified at least in part by the claim that they were improving the lot of those they invaded. The interplay between this assertion and the more mercenary motivations which guide imperialism is what the book is about. The other major theme is the evolution in US foreign policy over the surveyed period of about 100 years and things it tells us about the US system of government and particularly the relative lack of checks and balances. It is tempting to suggest that over this period, what has really changed has been the sophistication of the linkage made between US commercial interests and political strategy, from overtly protecting specific companies' commercial franchises to intervention intended to protect capitalism or secure stable sources of energy.

As regards the mechanics of regime change, the author captures with great skill the idea that radical change requires crisis and that overarching policy guidance tolerant of regime change often puts immense power in the hands those responsible for its orchestration. Add to this that the advice available to Presidents has often been poor and the suggestion that neither Congress nor the media have been particularly effective in challenging the wisdom of regime change and you have the authors recipe for mistaken policy.

The author goes on to draw some geopolitical conclusions. While it is difficult to disagree that US policy towards Iran has been unsuccessful in advancing US interest over the last 60 years, the most damning criticism is in relation to countries in Central America. In his analysis, the author is persuasive, but you are left with the feeling that there may be another side to the story.


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