PASSIONS AND CONSTRAINT

ON THE THEORY OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY

A spirited vindication of classical liberalism and its notions of constitutional government. In a series of linked essays, Holmes (Political Science and Law/Univ. of Chicago; The Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism, not reviewed) takes on what he sees as wrongheaded criticisms, whether from the right or the left, of three aspects of liberal democracy: constitutional constraints on majority rule; the identification of individual freedom with an absence of government involvement in civil society; and self-interest. Holmes sees these principles as necessary both for popular self-rule and for the modern welfare state. Most tellingly, he takes sharp issue with negative constitutionalism—the idea that constitutions are designed to curb the power of the sovereign. This notion is true only up to a point, Holmes counters, arguing that, when legitimated by a constitution, sovereign or executive power often increases. Though Holmes touches on the point only lightly, he suggests that the reason some right- wingers so overestimated the Soviet threat to the West was that they failed to recognize that the contentious nature of democracy was not a weakness. ``It should now be clear, for good or ill,'' he notes, ``that liberalism is one of the most effective philosophies of state building ever contrived.'' What lends particular credibility to Holmes's argument is his examination of the historical context that gave rise to elements of liberal theory, including the English Civil War, which inspired Thomas Hobbes's notions of unruly man; the 15th-century conflict between French Catholics and Huguenots that led Jean Bodin to speculate on the nature of royal sovereignty; Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine's theories of bonds among the generations; and how liberal theory is tested in such contemporary applications as welfare and abortion. Despite some puzzling gaps (e.g., little discussion of the disruptive effects of race and ethnicity), an intelligent reminder that a system of government seen as weak can be unexpectedly strong.

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-226-34968-3

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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