THE SECRET LIVES OF CITIZENS by Thomas Geoghegan

THE SECRET LIVES OF CITIZENS

Pursuing the Promise of American Life

KIRKUS REVIEW

Meet political essayist and attorney Geoghegan, an unrepentant liberal, i.e., a living anachronism. With power moving from the center to the periphery and political involvement essentially defined as local activism, Geoghegan (Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It’s Flat on Its Back, 1991) reminds us that Lincoln went to war to establish the primacy of the Union, not the states. His heresies include doubting the wisdom of state governments——When the states do look good, which is hardly ever, it’s always because of something Washington, D.C. is really doing”—and crediting government with making cities “blossom” in recent years. He doesn—t claim that the federal government is doing a good job; his point of departure from conservatives is that he wants it to do a good job rather than to disappear. For Geoghegan, the tragic story of recent decades is that we have “lost the art, the old art, of running a Central Government.” Unfortunately, his message is mostly lost in a volume of personal stories that are more self-indulgent than illustrative. We learn about his experiences in national politics in Washington, D.C., and his experiences in local politics. We learn that he believes American life should produce increasing prosperity for everyone, not just improve the chances that some will get rich, and we learn of his liberal prejudices for cities and the East and against the suburbs, countryside, and the South and West in what hopefully is self-parody. We certainly learn that Geoghegan is a talented writer, entertaining not only as a political novelty but as a storyteller with an eye for the amusing turn of events and phrase. But we do not learn enough about how his life links up to the themes of government and citizenship to put the pieces of this book together into a coherent whole. Fun to read, but unlikely to help fulfill any promise of liberalism.

Pub Date: Feb. 22nd, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-42153-X
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999




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