Books by Rogers M. Smith

Released: Nov. 1, 1999

Both experts in government and history, Klinkner (Hamilton Coll.; The Losing Parties, not reviewed) and Smith (Yale; Civic Ideals, not reviewed ) mean to "sound an alarm" about the still poor state of race relations in the US. To do so, they enter into a long tale of American history, none of its contents new, but all marshaled for the authors' special purpose.That purpose is to demonstrate that racial progress has occurred only with the simultaneous existence of three conditions: 1) a war necessitating the mobilization of African-Americans; 2) a war requiring Americans to justify their involvement in democratic, egalitarian, and inclusive terms; and 3) the existence of protest movements pushing the government to institute reforms in keeping with those ideals. The authors do not adequately consider the possibility that most all-out American wars were as much result, not cause, of democratic, egalitarian, and inclusive ideologies, as well as of their day's versions of "protest movements." And what of religion? They also admit that they cannot demonstrate that racial progress might have come about without wars. Ironically, their very approach could contribute to the current fatalism about progress in racial matters that they decry. After all, if we need wars of total mobilization to give us racial progress (and the authors don't advocate war), then perhaps we must simply wait for one to break out. Sensing their logical predicament, they remark that progress can occur without war. But for that to happen, "Americans can and should commit themselves anew to overcoming our deepest and most enduring national division." To be sure. But historical argument isn't necessary to make that point, especially if, as the authors admit, they've arrived at their arguments "inductively," because, while awaiting deductive research not yet undertaken, they believe it urgent to get their message out. But then their answers can't be taken as history, only as hope—albeit hope in which most people share. A heartfelt plea for further progress, which raises as many questions as it answers. Read full book review >