Sure to cause howls of disagreement, but in the current toxic partisan climate, Brennan’s polemic is as worth weighing as...

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AGAINST DEMOCRACY

A brash, well-argued diatribe against the democratic system.

There is much to mull over in this brazen stab at the American electoral process by Bleeding Heart Libertarians blogger Brennan (Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy/McDonough School of Business, Georgetown Univ.; Political Philosophy: An Introduction, 2016, etc.). The problem with most voters, according to the author, is that they are “ignorant, irrational, misinformed nationalists”—not because they are dumb, mind you, but because political engagement is not worth the effort. Brennan divides citizens into three groups: the hobbits, who are apathetic and have no opinion; the hooligans, the majority, who have strong, fixed views and learn about other views only to support their own; and the vulcans, the rare few who “think scientifically and rationally about politics” and try to be unbiased—i.e., well-educated people like Brennan and his readers. Since political liberties—e.g., the right to vote and hold offices and positions of political power—are not like other (civil) liberties, the author asks “why it’s legitimate” to allow hooligans, for the most part, to “impose incompetently made decisions on innocent people.” As he argues, voters should be chosen and culled as carefully as jurors are selected, such as by an exam or lottery. Already foreseeing readers’ objections to what he calls an epistocracy, or rule by the knowledgeable, Brennan attempts to systematically destroy the objections—for example, that his proposed system would delegate civil duty even more unequally among demographic groups than it already does. Moreover, “restricted suffrage” smacks of past and current voter restrictions, such as against minority and poor voters. However, Brennan makes the compelling argument that politics as currently practiced make us “situational enemies.”

Sure to cause howls of disagreement, but in the current toxic partisan climate, Brennan’s polemic is as worth weighing as any other.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-691-16260-7

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

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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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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