A liberal tries to straddle the fence, in a harsh, often trite polemic geared to enrage multiculturalists, feminists, affirmative activists, and others. Even liberals who secretly harbor doubts about whether a lack of ethnic pride is what underlies the difficulties of black children in school will find little succor from Henry (a Pulitzer Prize winner and a columnist for Time who died this summer at the age of 44). Even those who criticize the belief that all values and ideas are equally worthy will be offended by his writing, regarding the relative worth of cultures, ""It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose."" In defending elitism as an individualist philosophy that demands the best from each person and rewards those with the greatest achievements, Henry slaughters every sacred cow of the left. Affirmative action, he claims, is as unfair to its beneficiaries as it is to white men, breeding doubt in minority employees whether they were hired for their abilities or to fill a quota. As for feminism, ""forty-six percent of the nation's financial managers are women,"" so what are they still griping about, he wonders. Educated mothers should stay home: ""A live-in nanny clearly represents an intellectual step down for the child,"" since she is probably not college-educated. (But even card-carrying feminists will relish his quotes from some rather laughable scholarly feminist works, for instance, one about the impact of ""masculinism"" on the study of geography.) The gaps in Henry's logic are often glaring. He believes in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome, but he wants less academically successful students to be tracked into vocational education at an early age. And in espousing Oregon's health-care reform package -- which even the Bush administration rejected as discriminatory against the disabled -- on the grounds that some lives are more valuable to society than others, Henry begs the whole question of the worth of human life. An infuriating screed that will alienate even those liberals seeking a coherent and well-argued defense of intellectual rigor and reward for merit.
Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994
Page Count: 224
Review Posted Online: N/A
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1994
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