America in Fearful Times
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Curmudgeonly view of how America got to where it is today.

Shorris (The Life and Times of Mexico, 2004, etc.) proposes that a vast political movement has come to power in America. The movement—which he does not name, but does attempt to define—is most closely associated with political conservatives and religious fundamentalists, but it spreads beyond party and religion. He traces the history of the movement as a series of “confluences,” and indeed his work is a collection of interwoven arguments leading up to a description of the movement itself. Basically, the movement is based on fear, pessimism and preoccupation with death. It is largely religious in nature, but according to Shorris, displays the worst sides of religion. He contrasts it again and again with the “social gospel” politics which found its highest fulfillment in FDR (about whom Shorris admits, “[as a small child] I thought he was holy”). The current movement, born out of the atomic age, Cold War and terrorism, is characterized by “fear, death, racism, and capitalism,” and is “an affiliation of the fearful, each group expressing its fears in a different form.” Shorris’ style is laced with ad hominem attacks (Grover Norquist is a piñata in this work) and condescension toward neoconservatives, people of faith and the “uneducated,” such as Ronald Reagan and Tom DeLay. Though he condemns the movement for its pessimism, there is little optimism in Shorris’ own message. He does conclude with a sense that the spirit of FDR will prevail, and that the current movement will someday die out just as others have, but the rest of the book is simply depressing. Shorris’ erudition is without question, and several threads are of interest (such as the Straussian underpinnings of the Bush administration), but his invective stands out above his arguments.

Well-read ramblings of a bitter man.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-393-05963-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2007


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