WHAT IS AMERICA? by Ronald Wright


A Short History of the New World Order
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A Canadian author examines America’s historical sins.

According to Wright (A Short History of Progress, 2005, etc.), America’s contempt for government regulation, conservation and international cooperation, her gun-crazy, religious zealotry and her abandonment of the public good in favor of military and market imperatives, all promise to make the New World Order depressingly like the Old. Especially now, he argues, after the depletion of the “loot, labour and land” that fueled the Columbian Age, we must squarely face the facts, not the myths, of our record to avoid future chaos and catastrophe. Through a lens seemingly constructed by Howard Zinn and Jared Diamond, Wright’s oblique take on the past 500 years, a parade of European and American horrors, will not come as news to anyone who’s sat in a high school or college history classroom in the past 40 years. Still, few of those students will have likely heard so charming an analysis of American depredations. Drawing especially on his deep knowledge of the Indian cultures populating the hemisphere before European contact and employing a particularly wide-ranging set of literary references from Melville to Jonathan Franzen, Emerson to Primo Levi, Wright approvingly cites Tocqueville, Frederick Jackson Turner, Karl Marx, Woodrow Wilson, John Maynard Keynes, Jimmy Carter and Al Gore. Among the many villains identified, Andrew Jackson takes pride of place, closely followed by Nixon, both Bushes, Theodore Roosevelt, Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan. The author speaks kindly of the League of Nations, the Kyoto Accord and the European Union, but disparagingly about globalization (“a feeding frenzy”) and deregulation (“a free-for-all to grab the most in the shortest time”). Though he warns against the errors of “presentism” (projecting current values onto history) and hyperbole, Wright can’t seem to help himself, prematurely placing Barack Obama in a list of prophets that include Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King.

An entertaining, highly tendentious account of where we’ve been and where we’re headed.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-78672-097-2
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Da Capo
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 2008


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