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Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents Hardcover – June 15, 2007
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Anderson relying on the analysis of the French Historian Francois Furet points to two flaws in free- market societies. The first is that preaching an equality of opportunity they lead to unrealistic egalitarian expectations. Secondly , the societies suffer from moral uncertainties. Their giving so much weight to individual judgment and decision mean that they bear within them a tendency to moral anarchy. And it is possible to argue that many of the social ills which have come to plague America in the last half- century especially have come out of an excessive retreat of public communal ethic before individual wish and whim.
Anderson in his defense of democratic capitalism urges a modification towards greater balance between communal obligation and individual judgment.
He provides readings of key thinkers such as the radical egalitarian John Rawls, Bernard de Jouvenal.
His work is in the tradition of the sensible defenders of liberty and democracy perhaps most notably Isaiah Berlin.
An instructive , timely and important work.
Democratic Capitalism addresses both the pathologies of the political left along with the idiosyncrasies of a gaggle of talking heads. The dissection of Hardt and Negri's Empire was a joy to digest, and far preferable to actually having to read it. I also found his examination of Jean-Paul Sarte enlightening. The man was a monster...yet so much less. When I was in college debate, the name John Rawls was on everyone's lips; although, his was a slippery and allusive form of justice; one which made no room for his ideological opponents. Mr. Anderson illuminates the non-democratic tendencies of Rawls along with those of many other figures. The essay on the rise of judicial activism was pretty horrifying but went a long way in explaining the culture in which we now find ourselves. What hope is there for conservatives given the recent victories of emotion over reason and of political correctness over freedom in our daily life? The future appears rather dim but we should be cheered by our foes rampant insecurity. This suggests that our side, just by the nature of its continued existence, may be more powerful than we suspect.
The book opens with a statement of two primary weaknesses of liberal democracy, namely that it overdoes equality, and tends to produce a lack of moral direction. These are important areas to explore. But the way of doing so raises skepticism. In Chapter 2, Anderson presents an analysis of "Empire", by Hardt and Negri. He characterizes the book as being the absolutely the worst drivel imaginable, and ties it to the liberal press, citing the New York Times (p 24). Interestingly, I found "Democratic Capitalism and Its Discontents" and was prompted to buy it by a rather favorable editor's comment in the Times Book Review. But in any event, accepting the author's characterizations, what is the purpose of his setting up Empire as representing total trash, so as to then knock it down? How does this contribute to the American citizen who wants to understand how we are or aren't dealing with moral issues in our law and politics? Chapter 6, with a discussion of the writings of John Rawls, seems similarly to have the purpose of setting up a bogey man so as to be able to knock him down. There is no case made that a significant number of Americans, of the left, center or otherwise, follow his teachings or, indeed, even know anything about him. And again in Chapter 8, Sartre is the absolute bad guy on the left who gets hung out to dry. What is a person in the center supposed to do, go find books that castigate writers who argue from the right?
Some of the other chapters take you through interesting material, such as the one on "Religious America, Secular Europe", that discusses reasons for the greater religiosity in American compared to Europe. A number of other writers are analyzed for their positions on the trouble with democracy, with succeeding positions trending toward the author's preferences. In the end the primary suggestion regarding how to achieve a better moral dimension in modern democracy is to have the Catholic Church resist democratic pressures and to "instill vital spiritual energies into our social order". (p 176) Is there nothing that we lay people can do?
The book left me yearning for a more insightful presentation that doesn't give the impression of just wanting to force conclusions. There are no notes, no references to sources. The two starting points deserve better attention, and people who don't want to be characterized as extreme left or extreme right should be given better treatment.
I would prefer to give it 2 ½ stars, but since that isn't allowed, and the book does make you think about very important subjects, I give it 3 stars.
Ted Preston, author of "Judging the Lawyers"
Required reading for anyone interested in politics...five stars!