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Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchist Hardcover – May 15, 2006
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*Starred Review* "I am an American patriot," Kauffman begins, and after less than a paragraph of his customary fine, funny, dead-on-the-money phrasing about what that entails, does his first finger-pointing at role models: "I am the love child of Henry Thoreau and Dorothy Day." Dorothy who? (Please don't ask, "Henry who?") In chapter 2, Kauffman shiningly profiles that extraordinary pacifist activist, cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement and the closest thing to St. Francis America has ever seen. He has already sketched two ex-senators he admires, Eugene McCarthy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and revealed why McCarthy was better: Moynihan was a truth teller like McCarthy but also, finally, a political coward. Kauffman's marvelous trick of praising to the skies and then noting shortcomings and even vices increases the fascination of his remarks on such defenders of "family, community, [and] local self-rule" as Wendell Berry, Grant Wood, Carolyn Chute, Millard Fillmore ("ranks with the Quaker Herbert Hoover as the most pacific president"), as well as more obscure figures. More marvelous is that Kauffman, who freely injects himself into his prose, treats himself the same way; he vaunts his stance on something and then acknowledges his contradictions on the same matter. If figures he considers overrated don't get the same treatment, well, that helps keep things snappy. His writing persona couldn't be more appealing. Ray Olson
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"Kauffman’s marvelous trick of praising to the skies and then noting shortcomings and even vices increases the fascination of his remarks on such defenders of "family, community, [and] local self-rule" as Wendell Berry, Grant Wood, Carolyn Chute, Millard Fillmore...More marvelous is that Kauffman, who freely injects himself into his prose, treats himself the same way; he vaunts his stance on something and then acknowledges his contradictions on the same matter. If figures he considers overrated don’t get the same treatment, well, that helps keep things snappy. His writing persona couldn’t be more appealing."-Ray Olson, Booklist
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He has a lot of good, interesting points to make and things to say, but his prose is horrible.
By horrible I mean convoluted, tortured, stiff, wordy, and needlessly complex.
He is an author that seeks to impress with complexity, as if doing so will preclude a critique of his arguments.
Oh where was the editor on this one?
Although the figures he discusses are varied, all of them share a deep distrust not only of big government, but also in contrast to Austrians like Human Events and Thomas Woods, big business. Instead, most envisioned a society in which workers would be able to control their own lives. Though I was upon reading the book very familiar with the ideal of workers' self-control via radical Trotskyists at Melbourne University, the ideal here is manifested as an ideal of peaceful local self-reliance in which people are able to produce what they need and trade locally. In Kauffmann's view, attachment should be to one's local place and not to the vast nation-state and its military-industrial complex: a view I have come to sympathise with from readings on both sides of politics. Yet - and this is something my own personal experience tells me well to be necessary - Kauffmann understands how responsibility is much more than making choices every few years but must be seen in one's actions at all times. Despite Kauffmann's strong Catholicism, there are numerous moments of praise in "Look Homeward America" for what most would regard as quite ordinary popular culture; thus the book never comes off as preachy or harsh. Rather, Kauffmann comes off as lighthearted and humorous and as a very easy read even for those with little knowledge of politics.
In the process of describing some of the more little-known figures like Grant Wood, Kauffmann not only shows what they stood for but provides a number of real-life stories that is exceptional for any person writing about serious politics: for instance, how Wood's ideals evolved in the Iowa plains takes up a good proportion of the book, as does his account of obscure 1850s President Millard Fillmore and his efforts to prevent war between the North and South, together with Carolyn Chute's history in the remote interior of Maine as a potato-picker who worked for extraordinarily low wages but still coped well.
All in all, if you want an introduction to an overlooked but genuine "Third Way", "Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals" is truly the book to buy.
Most recent customer reviews
Kauffman's writing style could generously be described as dense; I got the distinct impression that his main goal...Read more