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Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism Hardcover – September 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

n Democracy Matters, Cornel West's follow-up to 1993's Race Matters, the author's diagnosis of the state of modern American democracy is grim. The institution suffers, he says, from what he calls free market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism and escalating authoritarianism, forces that put a stranglehold on efforts to achieve better social and political results on a global scale. These systemic problems exist simultaneous to a pervading sense of nihilism throughout the American corridors of power, West contends, making lawmakers feel that they are inherently virtuous because they are so powerful and accepting a system they know to be unjust, while the press sacrifices truth and insight in pursuit of a sentimental story. Along the way, West makes extensive use of literary and historical parallels, employing Alexis de Tocqueville, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Toni Morrison and others, with grea! t efficacy for the most part, to illustrate his points. West's prescription calls for a path toward a style of Christianity more in keeping with what he sees as true Christian ideals as well as a greater enfranchisement and understanding of young people and youth culture. West has a lot to say and the vast scope of West's arguments could be construed in at least a couple of ways: either he boldly takes on the enormity inherent to the topic of democracy, or he loses his way and attempts to touch on too wide a swath of topics while rarely going into sufficient detail on any of them. Besides being a provocative author, West is a highly respected professor and Democracy Matters reads something like a university lecture sounds: often insightful, occasionally disjointed, periodically obtuse, and sometimes brilliant. But in the ongoing effort to establish a better democracy, Professor West's perspective is highly instructive. --John Moe

From Publishers Weekly

A sequel to 1993's Race Matters, West's latest aims to "look unflinchingly at the waning of democratic energies and practices in our present age of American empire." Such orotund language pervades the book, which expands philosophically on extant critiques but offers little practical or programmatic advice. American democracy, argues West, is threatened by free market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism and escalating authoritarianism. He criticizes Republicans as evangelical nihilists driven by delusions of American domination, Democrats (including John Kerry) as paternalistic nihilists accepting a corrupt system and most news organizations as sentimental nihilists sacrificing truth for distraction. With intermittent journeys through Tocqueville, Melville, King, Emerson, Twain and Morrison, among others, he lingers in the Middle East (supporting security for Israel and freedom for Palestinians), and calls fiercely for an American Christianity that evokes the Christian ideals of love and justice, and that advocates deeper engagement with youth culture—which leads to a nine-page account of how his outreach led to a clash with Harvard president Larry Summers and his departure for Princeton. Echoing his 1993 demand for improvisational "jazz freedom fighter[s]," West here invokes the blues, which "forge a mature hope that fortifies us on the slippery tightrope of Socratic questioning and prophetic witness in imperial America."
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (September 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594200297
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594200298
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #947,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cornel West is a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and obtained his MA and PhD in philosophy at Princeton. He has taught at Union Theological Seminary (where he has recently returned to teach), Yale, Harvard, Princeton, and the University of Paris. He has written nineteen books and edited thirteen books. He is best known for his classic Race Matters, published by Beacon Press in 1993. His latest books are Black Prophetic Fire, which offers a fresh perspective on six revolutionary African American leaders (Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Du Bois, Martin Luther King Jr., Ella Baker, Malcolm X, and Ida B. Wells) and The Radical King, a collection of MLK's writings curated and introduced by Prof. West to reclaim Dr. King's prophetic and radical vision as both a civil rights leader and--more broadly--as a human right activist. Both books were published by Beacon Press.

Cornel West appears frequently on Real Time with Bill Maher, The Colbert Report, CNN and C-SPAN, and he makes numerous appearances speaking to audiences large and small on subjects ranging from racial justice and queer rights to climate justice. Prof. West has appeared in over twenty-five documentaries and films, including Examined Life, Call & Response, Sidewalk, and Stand. He has also made three spoken-word albums, including Never Forget, collaborating with Prince, Jill Scott, Andre 3000, Talib Kweli, KRS-One, and the late Gerald Levert. His recent spoken-word interludes were featured on Terence Blanchard's Choices (which won the Grand Prix in France for the best jazz album of the year for 2009).

He has recently been deeply involved in the Black Lives Matter protests and was among those arrested in Ferguson in 2015. Cornel West has a passion to communicate in writings and orations, through music and film, and in solidarity with groups and faith communities committed to justice in order to keep alive the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.--a legacy of telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.

Photo credit Sigrid Estrada.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 127 people found the following review helpful By Bryan C. Bughman on October 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The fact that some "reviewers" have used their review as a polemic against the left and an empty and spurious argument for the establishment of religion in school shows how little they've understood this book.

"Democracy Matters" is a lyical plea for the beginning of a meaningful dialogue in this country. With the talking heads on FOX and CNN and the dribble that drips from the mouth of the Bush administration (and often the Kerry campaign), West argues that America has lost its ability to advance democratically. This is an important book for anyone who wishes to transcend the easy labels of the day and stop the shallow mudslinging so common in our time. Whether you agree with Professor West's conclusions, the overall point of his work is to have a meaningful dialogue about the state of our country that does not devolve into the mindless shouting so common today.

The comments by some envoking the impoverished mark of "Leftist" prove Dr. West's point: the dogmatic inflexibility of much of this nation has made a mockery of our political process. If conservatives and liberals alike would read this book with an open mind, instead of questioning why dissenters don't leave this great country, we would all be better off.
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48 of 58 people found the following review helpful By R. Schwartz on January 4, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is outstanding. It outlines our anti-democratic conditions permeating American democracy, both domestically and in foreign policy and draws on the deep foundations of democratic traditions needed to draw on to combat what have lost. We have reached a rare fork in the road and it is crucial to draw on such democratic energies.

West outlines three antidemocratic dogmas that dominate our current political climate:

1. Free-market fundamentalism, which trivializes the concern of public interest. The overwhelming power and influence of plutocrats and oligarchs in the economy put fear and insecurity in the hearts of anxiety-ridden workers and render money-driven, poll obsessed elected officials deferential to corporate goals of profit often at the cost of the common good.

2. Aggressive militarism. This new U.S. doctrine goes beyond preventive war but puts the green lights on the elites to sacrifice soldiers, mostly of the working and poor classes, fueling a foreign campaign which does away with multilateral decisions to that of unilateral, lone ranger imperialistic colonial invasions, all for the sole benefit of the government regardless of all others and societies.

3. Escalating authoritarianism, which is tightening security in replace of liberty and freedom. The Patriot Act is only the beginning, as we will see escalated censorship and rights removed.

In this West brings out three common forms of anti-democratic nihilism:

1. Evangelical nihilism. This is the idea that might makes right, as in Thrasymachus argument in Plato's Republic. The stronger U.S. must use its military power to quiet dissenters. All must obey and submit to our correct interpretations of culture.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By BlackJack21 on September 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Democracy Matters is an exceptional read but sometimes it loses its focus.

In his latest book Cornel West tackles the issue of democracy decomposition. He brings to light many historical facts and opinions, which makes his case quite clear. However, at times, he has a tendency to lose focus on the subject matter and focuses more on the historical figures that he is quoting, which will leave the reader disenchanted. One must have a strong understanding of history to ascertain the complex subject matters discussed in this book.

The book is well written but you better understand the writings of Plato, be schooled on W.E.B. Dubois, and have an impeccable lexicon. Cornel's vocabulary is second to none. He never takes the easy way out and that's why his writings are so thought provoking. This book is a must read if you lean on the left side of politics. Cornel gives you a lot to contemplate.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Jean E. Pouliot on November 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to know what to make of Cornell West, but more so of his detractors. West is a paradox. On one hand, he has held important positions at America's premier teaching institutions, like Harvard. On the other, he eschews the standard forms by which academics hold such position -- by publishing well-researched, highly-referenced works, many of which have little ultimate value. But West prefers sermons to citations and righteous exhortations to references.

In "Democracy Matters," the West style is in full flourish. He does not attempt to prove any of his statements, and hardly provides enough examples for the reader to be absolutely certain what he is referring to. He is a jazz artist of academe - floating serenely above the dull world of strict chord progressions and precisely-executed scales. This is simultaneously his strength and his greatest liability. The man has something to say that the safe, serene world of the academy cannot contain. On the other hand, a little rigor wouldn't hurt his cause.

In "Democracy Matters, "West preaches a sermon to an America that has become democratically lethargic and is losing interest in the impulses on which it was founded. West pins the blame on a trio of anti-democratic dogmas that underpin how Americans think about themselves and that propel our actions. The trio, (which due to ample repetition makes itself felt throughout the book) are free market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism and escalating authoritarianism. Needless to say, West is no fan of the Bush II administration, and he has little good to say about it adventurism overseas.
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