From Publishers Weekly
These essays offer a refreshingly impious denunciation of the movement for "civility" in public life-a movement, DeMott says, toward nonpolitics, in which, for instance, presidential candidates talk about their personal lives instead of addressing large issues. DeMott, emeritus professor of humanities at Amherst College, says that celebrity, consumer culture and "touchy-feely" policy initiatives like faith-based social work and character education work to "personalize" and "moralize" political debate and deflect attention from addressing America's problems and the large-scale programs needed to solve them. Despite DeMott's connective essays, the argument doesn't always cohere across these disparate articles (originally published in the Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and elsewhere). He leaves loose ends, suggesting but never proving that the civility movement is a red herring concocted by "top dogs" to distract challengers to the status quo. He also lumps together too many unrelated trends under the term "junk politics." It's hard to see compassionate conservatives, the sexual revolution, management gurus, Dave Eggers, George Will and L.L. Bean catalogues as examples of a single phenomenon. Moreover, the notion that the post-Gingrich era is a time of excessive civility is questionable, and DeMott doesn't adequately explain how the trash-talking, ideological wing of the conservative movement relates to this mushy, apolitical "junk politics." In DeMott's defense, his critique is amorphous partly because his target is a sensibility. He is often effective at analyzing the national psychology, especially in his witty deconstructions of everyday culture. Junk Politics hints at a promising new approach to the well-worn topic of Americans' disengagement from democracy, but DeMott could have done more to synthesize and clarify the ideas in these disparate essays.
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