A refreshingly original contribution to the ongoing analysis of the American political system.

Technocracy in America

RISE OF THE INFO-STATE

A radical reappraisal of democracy and its decline in the United States.

After a historically acrimonious presidential election, there’s been much hand-wringing about the health of American democracy on both sides of the ideological divide and consternation over a general lack of adequate political representation. Khanna (Connectography, 2016, etc.), a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, argues that American democracy has become indefensibly dysfunctional and that it’s eroding the public’s trust in its chief institutions. The real goal, the author contends, should be a combination of meaningful representation with effective governance—one that requires a diminishment of democracy in favor of technocratic stewardship: “In western thought, a deep complacency has set in that confuses politics with governance, democracy with delivery, process with outcomes,” he notes. “But the ‘will of the people’ is not just to repeat their desires over and over without results.” Khanna recommends a combination of democracy and meritocratic rule—“direct technocracy”—which would chasten the demands of an often myopic public with the long-term judgment of the nation’s “best and brightest.” The author’s model for direct democracy is Switzerland’s, while his exemplar of technocratic oversight is Singapore’s, and he ably discusses both. Philosophically speaking, a combination of the two, he says, would encourage utilitarian outcomes that would ultimately generate the broadest benefits for the greatest number of people. The author provocatively offers a laundry list of governmental innovations to this end; the most notable and ambitious include the leadership of an executive committee instead of a single president; 10-year terms for U.S. Supreme Court justices; and the replacement of the U.S. Senate with a “Governors Assembly.” Khanna’s judgments are sometimes peremptory and strident; for instance, he assumes, without argument, that Brexit is a “debacle” that represents “the triumph of politics over rationality.” Also, he asserts, when discussing the executive branch, that “Seven heads are better than one, period,” without referring to Alexander Hamilton’s arguments for a unified executive branch. Still, this book remains a powerful stimulant to a more searching discussion of the virtues and vices of American democracy, and it deftly combines philosophical discussion with concrete political analysis.

A refreshingly original contribution to the ongoing analysis of the American political system.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 108

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

INTO THE WILD

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

Did you like this book?

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

THE LAWS OF HUMAN NATURE

A follow-on to the author’s garbled but popular 48 Laws of Power, promising that readers will learn how to win friends and influence people, to say nothing of outfoxing all those “toxic types” out in the world.

Greene (Mastery, 2012, etc.) begins with a big sell, averring that his book “is designed to immerse you in all aspects of human behavior and illuminate its root causes.” To gauge by this fat compendium, human behavior is mostly rotten, a presumption that fits with the author’s neo-Machiavellian program of self-validation and eventual strategic supremacy. The author works to formula: First, state a “law,” such as “confront your dark side” or “know your limits,” the latter of which seems pale compared to the Delphic oracle’s “nothing in excess.” Next, elaborate on that law with what might seem to be as plain as day: “Losing contact with reality, we make irrational decisions. That is why our success often does not last.” One imagines there might be other reasons for the evanescence of glory, but there you go. Finally, spin out a long tutelary yarn, seemingly the longer the better, to shore up the truism—in this case, the cometary rise and fall of one-time Disney CEO Michael Eisner, with the warning, “his fate could easily be yours, albeit most likely on a smaller scale,” which ranks right up there with the fortuneteller’s “I sense that someone you know has died" in orders of probability. It’s enough to inspire a new law: Beware of those who spend too much time telling you what you already know, even when it’s dressed up in fresh-sounding terms. “Continually mix the visceral with the analytic” is the language of a consultant’s report, more important-sounding than “go with your gut but use your head, too.”

The Stoics did much better with the much shorter Enchiridion.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-42814-5

Page Count: 580

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

more