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."
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