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 clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

SO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT RACE

Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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