ON THE DEMOCRATIC IDEA IN AMERICA by Irving Kristol

ON THE DEMOCRATIC IDEA IN AMERICA

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Eight essays, first published in Commentary, The Public Interest (which Kristol edits), and similar political opinion journals. What unifies them is Kristol's maxim that the citizenry must ""govern their passions"" and ""recognize their basic common interests"" -- essentially the pitch of a small-town banker who has just foreclosed on his neighbors; but Kristol's referrals to ancient Greeks and Whigs and Federalists gloss the harshest aspects of his conservatism. The first essay imputes the urban crisis to an ""absence of values,"" posed as an explanation, not an aspect of unrest. The second essay views protest as a perverse act on behalf of ""unreasonable expectations,"" best quashed by reviving ""the old virtues of self-discipline and self-denial."" This solution does not stem from Kristol's temperament alone; as a Nixon adviser, he is explicitly aware that few material sops will be offered ""the urban mob"" which has surfaced after the working class was tamed into a ""bourgeois mass."" The third essay makes a strong argument that pornography debases citizens; but Kristol's advocacy of censorship is based on the syllogism that because the healthy don't need pornographic stimulation, keeping it from the unhealthy will cure them. Then follows a proposal to deal with student protesters (""most"" of whom are causeless rebels and spitters in professorial eyes): disperse big campuses, segregate radicals, end free tuition. Two hackneyed polemics against ""idealism"" and ""utopianism"" denounce intellectuals as powderpuffs incompetent to judge foreign policy matters, and reject any plans for better living standards beyond the ""small improvements"" the present U.S. government can provide. For all Kristol's talk about the democratic citizenry he sees no prospect of increased freedom and responsibility for the populace; this book is written to make austerity policies acceptable to discouraged liberals, intellectuals, and bureaucrats.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1972
ISBN: 0786100621
Publisher: Harper & Row