A fruitful argument against the politics of “simple-minded populism,” eminently worthy of consideration and debate.

THE FUTURE OF FREEDOM

ILLIBERAL DEMOCRACY AT HOME AND ABROAD

The problem with democracy is that it lets just about everyone have a say.

Or so would go an inelegant rendition of Newsweek International editor Zakaria’s more sophisticated argument, which is akin to those of, say, Samuel Huntington and Francis Fukuyama in the Big Idea school of political criticism. Briefly, Zakaria holds that some of the features we take for granted in democracy, such as universal adult suffrage, are recent innovations that overlie, and now threaten to obscure, far more important aspects of “constitutional liberalism—the rule of law, private property rights, and . . . separated powers and free speech and assembly.” These ideals, “best symbolized not by the mass plebiscite but the impartial judge,” are the true hallmarks of democracy, but they are not the ones that Americans, at least, think of when that golden term is uttered, and not the ones that are called to mind when the talk turns to spreading one-man, one-vote democracy around the world, which is a peculiarly American project. (“Think of it this way,” Zakaria intones, “if France had been the world’s leading power for the last century, would 18-year-olds wearing jeans in restaurants come up to you and say, ‘Hi, I’m John and I’ll be your waiter today’?”) The rest of the world, and particularly the Arab and Asian quarters, is not much interested in this power-sharing ideal—which in any event, by Zakaria’s account, so often tends to lead to the tyranny of the majority and “the erosion of liberty, the manipulation of freedom, and the decay of a common life.” Zakaria’s arguments are, of course, arguable, but they are interesting and provocative at the same time. His passing notes are more intriguing, culled from statistical tables and academic journal articles, on the material and political conditions required if a democracy of any kind is to endure: per-capita income and GDP above $6,000, an independent judiciary, an incorrupt central bank.

A fruitful argument against the politics of “simple-minded populism,” eminently worthy of consideration and debate.

Pub Date: April 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-393-04764-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2003

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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