Imperialism bad, democracy good: a lackluster excursion into the realm of the obvious.
This latest offering by author and academic celebrity West (Restoring Hope, 1997, etc.) resembles nothing so much as a sermon written in a hurry and delivered to the choir. Only the converted will be moved by set pieces such as: “When Bush smiles after his carefully scripted press conferences of little substance, we do not know whether he is laughing at us or getting back at us as we laugh at him—as the press meanwhile hurries to concoct a story out of his clichés and shibboleths.” (Shibboleths?) Or: “How ironic that in America we’ve moved so quickly from Martin Luther King’s ‘Let Freedom Ring’ to the ‘Bling! Bling!’—as if freedom is reducible to simply having material toys, as dictated by free-market fundamentalism.” (So Puffy and Jay-Z are now disciples of von Mises?) Or: “Western-style democracy has no future in the Islamic world. The damage has been done, the wounds are deep, and the die has been cast by the hypocritical European and nihilistic American imperial elites.” And how to battle Big Corporatism and Imperial Globalism, as well as those hypocrites and nihilists? Well, we can start by embracing a “Socratic-driven, prophetic-centered, tragicomic-tempered, blues-inflected, jazz-saturated” vision “that posits America as a confident yet humble democratic experiment that should be shoring up international law and multilateral institutions that preclude imperial arrangements and colonial invasions.” (Whew.) And, West adds, as if channeling Charles Reich, we can listen to the kids, who are picked on and misunderstood by such brutalizing forces as Harvard University president Lawrence Summers—who, notoriously, caused West’s defection from Harvard to Princeton after questioning his scholarship.
West’s self-serving account of that affair seems out of place in a polemic on democracy vs. imperialism. But, concrete rather than abstract and full of real emotion (“President Summers had messed with the wrong Negro”), it’s the best thing here.