Great book but loses momentum towards its finish,
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This review is from: Why Americans Hate Politics (Paperback)This is a really great book and in some ways surveys the development of the American political scene from the post war era straight through to the Clinton administration.
There is some really clear categorisation of the various tendencies and trends within the two big political camps, liberalism and conservatism, which the author believes have failed and become uninspiring to the American public. The book is pretty free of jargon, the pace and style of writing is good too and it has not aged badly either considering that the pressing issues discussed at the opening of the book are the adjustment of the world to a post-Cold War/post-Communist international political scene and the Gulf War.
As the author indicates in the introduction there is more time spent on the stresses and strains within the conservative political scene than within the liberal one, following a discussion of the emergence of the new left in the sixties as a major challenge to "establishment liberalism". The author believes that both the new left challenge to "establishment liberalism", which he considers of greater significance than its challenge to capitalism or democracy, and the emergence neo-conservatism in reaction to many of the cultural trends following the sixties began well but foundered, either becoming spent or ugly or both.
There is some interesting discussion of the rise of libertarianism as a critical right wing force prepared to break with traditionalist and religious conservatives which may have shared a consensus on some fiscal policies for different reasons. This is largely written before the emergence of the Tea Party or so called "South Park Conservatives" and similar popular cultural forces of that kind.
Besides the extent to which libertarianism appeared to be the emergent or ascendent political trend, combining what conservatives attacked as the "permissiveness" of the sixties left rebels with the fiscal policies of the eighties capitalist revivalists, I was surprised by the extent to which the US was unprepared for a post-communist endgame. Although on reflection I remember this being something I had thought about in the ninties I never imagined that the political pundits or intellectuals were as surprised by it too.
There is in important theme running throughout that now that the major challenger to political democracy appeared to have finally become completely redundant that what could be exported as models for political life and elections in former soviet countries would be the worst aspects of spent and seizing western political democracies. The conclusions are disappointing however and I really felt the book began to lose momentum at this point. There are appeals for a more robust self-government, the creation of an alternative political centre of gravity to state or market in the form of civil society but it neither seems to be a defence of pragmaticism nor libertarianism.
Some good points are made about how the ideological legacies of the ascendency and possible fragmentation of conservatism have damaged public perceptions of the public sector and created unfeasible expectations of free markets but it doesnt go anywhere. Like a lot of books of its kind I felt it appealed for a revival of public life and political participation but did not make a good case as to why this would really be preferable to either the optimistic or pessimistic reasons for embracing private life and political disengagement instead. There is some criticism of the "either/or" mindset, as opposed to the "and" mindset but it shys away from a positive advocacy of conclusions such as the legitimacy of a mixed economy in the final instance.
A good piece of political writing for anyone who is politically interested or perhaps historically interested in the US political scene, while it is an American book, written with an American readership in mind many of the points considered within it are relevent to a broader public.