89 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on May 1, 2012
Dennis Prager has provided a tour de force for conservative thought. First of all, before reviewing the book that was written, it is important to debunk the reviews about the book that was not written. (For those want a review of the real book, please skip down 3 paragraphs.) The 1-star reviewer below "Shade" clearly has not even purchased, let alone read, this book. This is easily proved by his question and statement: "why won't Prager tell you that the original intention of E Pluribus Unum was to indicate that out of many states (the original thirteen) one nation could be forged (with a central, federal government)? Instead he chooses to interpret this phrase from some singular conservative perspective, insisting that his is the only true and proper interpretation." But on page 373 Prager wrote, "At first the pluribus in E Pluribus Unum referred to the thirteen original colonies - and the motto was adopted in order to help forge these many colonies into unum, one nation." This is typical of those who attack Prager. They consistently attribute things to him he did not say or simply make something up, which anyone who actually listens to or reads him knows is untrue. But truth is obviously not as high a value as smearing a thoughtful conservative who changes minds and hearts every single day. "Shade" has provided yet another example proving one of Prager's main theses in section 1 of his book - the Left would rather demonize the Right than tell the truth.
One more example of Shade's distortion: "In Prager's simplistic reductio ad absurdum there are only three, that's right THREE, philosophies in all the world." Prager never even suggested these are the only three "philosophies in all the world." In fact, you only have to get to page 16, still in the introduction, to see in bold letters, "Is there a Fourth - the Chinese - Alternative?" Prager then discusses their ideology as a model but dismisses it as a viable option for global hegemony. The reviewer shows his own simplistic reductio ad abdurdum by falsely assuming that viable hegemonic ideologies are the same as any ideology. Prager does not discuss anarchy, for example, since it is not a viable hegemonic ideology. Shade also fails to provide another possible global alternative that does not fall under the three Prager deconstructs.
Now for the 2-star review: "It's ironic how Prager routinely criticizes the left for its narcissism, and then he turns around and writes a book about how wonderful the U.S. empire is." At least this reviewer got half of it right - Prager does consistently point out how much better Leftists think they are than conservatives, morally, intellectually, etc. Prager wrote a 400 page book and spent only 80 on the American value system, let alone the US. The other 310 pages are not about the US, so arguing that he wrote a book about the US Empire is absurd and, as with the above, demonstrates that the reviewer did not read the book and is more interested in smearing a thoughtful conservative than in truth. One more: "Prager is often critical of the government, but doesn't take on that aspect of big government that causes so much suffering around the world, the military industrial complex." Prager discusses this on pages 49-51. He also discusses and debunks the Chris Hedges work (pointing out that those like him) castigates intolerance, but seems entirely unaware of the intolerance of his own rhetoric and positions regarding Christians in the US (see page 131). Finally, he discusses the role of the US military in that very context on pages 382-387. Here he argues that the US has been - despite it's moral blemishes which he discusses on pages 380-383 - the least oppressive, least authoritarian, and most benign world superpower in human history and has liberated, among others, the Japanese, Chinese, Germans, South Koreans, Kuwaitis, and Iraqis, respectively. The fact that Japan, Germany, and South Korea have been able to turn into such wonderful societies while US troops have continued to "occupy" suggests how different the US "Empire" has been from every single other global power in recorded history. The US also leads the world in charitable giving and is the first place people all over the world look to when natural disasters or human-inflicted evils happen. Just as those in Haiti regarding the former and Kuwait regarding the latter. A final example to prove the reviewer never read the book nor likely listened to his show: "Most people who like Prager's views aren't interested in exploring alternative views." The whole point of the book is to explore alternative views and his shortest section is on the one he advocates.
The book Prager did write is about the three most viable ideological systems in the world today - what he calls Leftism, Islamism, and Americanism. He provides a wonderful appendix at the end of the book listing the American and Leftist positions to major issues such as "the state," "primary source of evil," "family ideal," "individual's income," "place of religion in America," etc. Prager's thesis is that the best hope for a better world is embodied in the American value system, which is synonymous with conservatism.
Prager devotes over half of the book to Leftism, precisely defining it, articulating what the ideology contains, why it is attractive to hundreds of millions of people, and its moral record during the 20th century. Leftism for Prager is embodied in the social democratic parties of Western Europe and the Democratic Party in the US. Ultimately he concludes that Leftism and all of its satellite ideologies - feminism, environmentalism, secularism, moral relativism, etc. - morally and economically bankrupt those who adhere to it. Prager contends that although its advocates use moral rhetoric and are well-intentioned, the policies they espouse produce selfishness, apathy, and, as seen in Western Europe's birth-rate, a staggering ennui. To support his case he looks not only to the obvious failures of 20th century far Left in the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Laos, and North Korea, but the seemingly successful cases like France, Germany, and Spain. Though he admits these are decent countries that have relatively more liberty than most of the rest of the world, their preoccupation with economic equality and state-sponsored benefits has economically and morally bankrupted an entire continent. He claims that most people in these countries do not recognize true evil - communism, Islamism, Terrorism - and instead choose to fight lesser or quasi-evils like climate change, second hand smoke, or onomastic notions of "intolerance." Prager also shows how ideas from the Left pervade our most influential institutions - the university, primary and secondary schools, many churches and other religious institutions, Hollywood, and almost all media outlets - talk radio and Fox News excluded. His deconstruction of the language that the media uses in presenting what otherwise seems like "just the news" is particularly revealing. For example, he shows how AP reports frequently choose to use terms like "sectarian violence" to describe Islamic terror while carefully avoiding the terms "Muslim, Islamic," etc. - be it violence against Christians, Jews, or fellow Muslims. They do this, Prager notes, while carefully not ascribing Islamic influences to terrorism committed by those like Nidal Hassan who screamed "Allahu Akbar," before shooting 13 innocents, was a card-carrying member of "Soldier of Allah," and raised repeated red flags about his Islamist sympathies. Finally, Prager contends that Leftism's preoccupation with having others (the state) provide for even the able-bodied citizen has, and will continue to, wear away at the fabrics of what was once a dynamic European culture. In short, they have produced a culture that stresses individual benefits but collective (and therefore no meaningful) responsibility.
Next Prager analyzes Islamism, which he defines as a political form of violent Islam that is embodied in Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaeda. He never seriously considers the US as possibly moving toward Islamism, but does implicitly suggest that it poses a real threat to the African continent, the Middle-East where it already dominates in many areas, and even Southern and Western Europe. He indirectly suggests that the latter could fall victim to Islamism due to their Leftist commitment to multiculturalism, inability to recognize true evil and assimilate foreigners, and their quasi-pacifism. Prager, a scholar at the Middle-East Institute at the Columbia University School of International Affairs, is critical of Islamism, but takes pains to distinguish it from other forms of peaceful Islam that are practiced peacefully throughout the world. That said, he is also careful to note that the number of peaceful adherents to Islam is irrelevant to the threat of Islamism. He cites the relatively few Nazi supporters there were in Germany in 1932 or committed communists in the Soviet Union or China as evidence to suggest that it is not the presence of a peaceful majority that matters, but the hegemonic influence of the threatening minority and the way the majority responds to that threat, that are important. For example, only 7-10% of the Islamic world supports Islamism, but that minority is still no less a threat. Finally, Prager holds out hope for the Muslim world by concluding that Islam - though it is in a low moral, intellectual, social, and economic state today, with its honor killings, intolerance of other religions, and obsession with de-legitimizing and destroying Israel - can have a bright future. He compares the medieval Christian world, which had many of the same characteristics - religious bigotry, little emphasis on liberty, etc. - to show how reformation is possible. He insists that the only way that it is possible, however, is if the Left, through organizations like CAIR, stop stymieing all criticism toward Islam and Muslims themselves unite in large numbers to condemn violence in their name. Here, as with the world in general, he believes that American Muslims hold out the best hope for Muslims elsewhere.
Prager's last section, though brief, is on Americanism. Here he articulates, better than any writer I know of, the case for conservatism and American values. He insists that American values are, as inscribed on our coinage, E Pluribus Unum, In God We Trust, and, most important, Liberty. Prager contrasts these values with the Leftist values of Multiculturalism, Secularism, and Equality. Though not all Leftists disdain liberty and not all Rightists disdain equality, he carefully demonstrates where each differs. He outlines 11 total American values in addition to these three pillars, showing how reason, for example, is critically important in any culture, but is insufficient by itself. He also argues for the sanctity of human life, the distinction between animals and humans, the difference between nature and, as Jefferson would put it, Natures God, and the limits of using material wealth as the supreme value the way the Left does. Prager insists that these values are not specific to America and can be adopted by any country, using Uruguay and as an example. He draws an important distinction here - other nations may retain their own cultures while simultaneously adopting these values. Finally, Prager tackles the typical charges that Islamists and those on the Left make against America. Claims of "American Imperialism" are presented in context with comparable global powers to demonstrate how benign (despite sometimes overstepping bounds) the US has been over the last 100 years. He also presents a particularly compelling case for why America - even if one believes it is not a net force for good in the world - is better than any non-utopian alternative; namely, China, Russia, Iran, Turkey, Western Europe, and the UN.
Though Dennis Prager has few moderate ideological positions (he is as ideologically pure a conservative as exists), his presentation is as calm, fair, and clear as anyone writing today of any persuasion. All Americans should read this book. Even if one detests the Right, this is as lucid an explanation of conservative thought as exists. We owe it to ourselves to read the best of those with whom we differ. This book qualifies as the best. Thoughtful moderates and liberals - though few Leftists - will find the text to be well-reasoned and the conclusions insightful, even if they disagree on certain matters. For others, it will change the way they view the world. The book is almost 400 pages, contains 350 endnotes, and at least another 100 in-text references.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2012
As I believe the star-rating should only be based on the content and quality of the author's erudition, arguments and efficacy in conveying them, and not on the technical outcomes of the actual printing, I am giving the book five stars. Dennis does all the above. What I most liked about this book was how it clearly delineates "leftism" as a all-pervasive religion or faith base system onto itself, much like orthodox Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Having a background in Middle Eastern studies, the section on Islam was less revelatory for me, personally...but, as Dennis says in his introduction, the weight/focus of the book is on the "left," which is why I bought the book...and, am enthusiastically recommending it to others.
The last part of the book, in which Dennis presents the Judeo-Christian/American value system, is nothing less then profound, and reads like a well-written and deeply contemplative philosophical work, without the pretentiousness that one can easy get carried away with when writing on such matters. This part of the book is succinct, yet comprehensive, and shows more than any other part of the book Dennis' gift of clear thinking, and his ability to express this thinking in highly readable prose.
Unfortunately, I do not agree with Dennis' concluding remarks, that any country and culture can embrace American values, which seem to me to be the outcome of a unique symbiosis of Reformation/Evangelical Christian and Enlightenment values that occurred at the right time in history, among a certain group of people (Anglo-Christians) who acted as the catalyst for a chain reaction that we are seeing fizzle out. All the succeeding waves of immigrants adopted those values, regardless of what ethnicity/religion they were, as long as the vanguard...the devout Christians dominated the culture and values. This is no longer the case, as American Christians, due to too many of them fully embracing the corrupt pop-culture and its values, have ceased to play a leading role in the national culture and its values, other than militantly supporting a few "favorite causes," such as fighting abortion and gay marriage. The real influence was in their schools of higher learning...all the ivy leagues, which have long ceased to train up the best and brightest in "American values." There is ZERO chance of any country in the Islamic world, and very little chance of any of the Catholic countries (Dennis cites Honduras for a case in point) of Latin America or Europe embracing these values, as they were never part of their cultural (not racial) DNA. Because they are part of our American (as well as Canadian, British, Austrian, New Zealand) cultural DNA, we can always hope for a "revival" of those values in the lands where they were born and took root.
Dennis, I assume that you occasionally are reading your reviews, as the book has just been published...therefore, I need to bring to your attention a defect with the Kindle Edition. The footnotes are not activated, i.e. I am not able to reference, by clicking on the footnote number, the actual note. There are notes that are non-numbered, and catalogued with an "asterisk," which can be referred to, as they are activated...but, the bulk of the notes, which are those catalogued by numbers, are inactive...please bring this to the attention to Amazon, so that they fix and update the Kindle Version (I am reading it on an iPad via the Kindle App for iPad). Because the Kindle version is only $3 less than the hard-bound copy, I expect the reading experience to be unblemished by this type of error. Thank you.