A well-delineated albeit depressing portrait of America’s present guiding political philosophy.



A learned and lively political harangue insists that America’s recent foreign-policy failures are the result of conservative principles.

New Republic executive editor Scoblic begins in the 1940s when conservatism seemed a spent force, devastated by the Depression, isolationism and FDR’s charisma. In the book’s most stimulating pages, the author describes the ideology’s rebirth in the ’50s, sparked by a few academics and one brilliant journalist: William F. Buckley Jr. In the National Review, Buckley laid out the modern conservative creed: Free enterprise is good, government is bad, communists are evil. Morality, not politics, must guide our leaders, Buckley averred. One does not negotiate with evil; treaties and even cultural exchanges with the Soviet Union were shameful. This philosophy thrived, but not at the highest levels. Republican presidents Eisenhower, Nixon and Ford were not modern conservatives; they believed preventing nuclear war was more important than overthrowing the Soviet Union. (Buckley and colleagues disagreed.) President Reagan seemed ideal, vilifying communism and beefing up U.S. forces. However, halfway through his term he reversed his policy and launched negotiations that dramatically improved U.S.-Soviet relations. Scoblic reminds readers that Reagan left office under a torrent of conservative denunciation. In the second half, the author characterizes President George W. Bush as the apotheosis of modern conservatism to whom 9/11 appeared as a godsend, providing an evil enemy to replace the defunct Soviet Union. But the Bush administration has been distracted from fighting terrorism, the author argues, by its eagerness to smite rogue states like Iraq as a demonstration of American righteousness. Since modern conservatives have no objection to using nuclear weapons to fight evil, the current administration has dropped efforts to prevent their spread (except to evil nations), thereby making the world more dangerous than at any time during the Cold War. Readers must plow through a torrent of government position papers, speeches, editorials and intelligence reports, but many will find Scoblic’s acerbic analysis worth the slog.

A well-delineated albeit depressing portrait of America’s present guiding political philosophy.

Pub Date: May 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-670-01882-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2008

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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