For a sapient citizenry and a new administration, a graduate-level seminar on a civic philosophy that reminds us, “Freedom...

A TOLERABLE ANARCHY

REBELS, REACTIONARIES, AND THE MAKING OF AMERICAN FREEDOM

Young public intellectual considers anew some main currents in American thought.

The Founders’ call to the spirit of liberty, puzzling to Edmund Burke and derided by Samuel Johnson, was patently hypocritical in light of the institution of slavery, writes Purdy (Law/Duke Univ.; Being America, 2003, etc.). The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both central to our canon of liberty, were thus flawed, but nevertheless achievements and prototypes that made freedom an imperative. Purdy’s short primer traces the evolution of constructive anarchy—our national tradition—through the special contributions of Frederick Douglass, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes. He parses the language of Presidents Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts and both Bushes as well the preaching of ecclesiastics from the Puritans and Deists to the purpose-driven Rick Warren. He touches on the dignity of free labor and utopian common sense. American political discourse, founded on the assumption that people are capable of self-government, includes notions of responsibility, service and character, writes the author. When George W. Bush asserted that the Iraq invasion would succeed because “God has planted in every heart the desire to live in freedom,” it was “a humane and hopeful idea,” but it was also “dangerously close to willful naïveté.” It’s too bad that Purdy’s detailed take on economics doesn’t reckon with the present unhappy situation. Readers will surely regret not having his thoughts on the effects of Ayn Rand–like libertarianism, evident in the ideas of Alan Greenspan, and its role in the dismantling of government regulation of the financial markets.

For a sapient citizenry and a new administration, a graduate-level seminar on a civic philosophy that reminds us, “Freedom is not just where you end up but also how you get there.”

Pub Date: March 5, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4447-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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