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New Threats to Freedom Hardcover – May 18, 2010
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the struggle against some of these overt dangers continues, some insidious new threats seem to have slipped past our intellectual defenses. These new threats are quietly eroding our hard-won freedoms, often unchallenged and, in some cases, widely accepted as beneficial.
In New Threats to Freedom, editor and author Adam Bellow has assembled an all-star line up of innovative thinkers to challenge these insidious new threats. Some leap into already raging debates on issues such as Sharia law in the West, the rise of transnationalism, and the regulatory state. Others turn their attention to less obvious threats, such as the dogma of fairness, the failed promises of the blogosphere, and the triumph of behavioral psychology. These threats are very real and very urgent, yet this collection avoids projecting an air of doom and gloom. Rather, it provides a blueprint for intellectual resistance so that modern defenders of liberty may better understand their enemies, more effectively fight to preserve the meaning of freedom, and more surely carry its light to a new generation.
Adam Bellow is vice president/executive editor at Harper-Collins. He has also been an executive editor at Doubleday (Random House) and was formerly editorial director of The Free Press (Simon & Schuster). His essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications. He is also the author of In Praise of Nepotism: A History of Family Enterprise from King David to George W. Bush (Anchor).
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To give some examples, first, of the essays I thought fell short, Jessica Gavora argues that single women are a threat to freedom. This certainly seems like an offbeat perspective worth exploring until you realize that the capstone of her argument is that single women look to the government to be their "substitute husband." This is the sort of claim I recall anti-feminists making in the 1970s and 1980s. There is really nothing "new" about it. Similarly, Max Borders' parable about excessive government regulation and homemade barbecue sauce seems very similar to stuff I read in the Reader's Digest thirty years ago. Mark Helprin's piece on the "Rise of Antireligious Orthodoxy" contains a nicely-written attack on the limits of human knowledge that would have made a George MacDonald or a G.K. Chesterton proud. To get there, however, I had to wade through an emotionally-heated stew of red herrings, flogged straw men and beaten horses that for this reader at least was a tough and almost embarrassing slog.
As for pieces I particularly liked, Michael Goodwin's piece on grade inflation in schools stood out. There were a number of good pieces about threats associated with the media, including Robert D. Kaplan's entry about what he calls the tyranny of the news cycle and David Mamet's piece on the fairness doctrine, in which he makes the salient point that speech can either be fair or free, but not both. Stephen Schwartz's carefully-argued piece on Shariah law in the West was probably the most knowledgeable and temperate article on that particular threat that I have ever read. I also enjoyed Ron Rosenbaum's piece on the demons enleashed by internet anonymity.
Unsurprisingly, most of the articles are written from a libertarian perspective, prototypically reflected in Michael Goodwin's piece on the Loss of the Freedom to Fail or Katherine Mangu-Ward's article on The War on Negative Liberty. Although some of the articles hew closer to the center of the political spectrum, the reader will look in vain for articles, say, on the dangers associated with our tolerance of extraordinary rendition and torture or the threats posed by growing income inequality. But one does not expect a moderate exploration of all possible viewpoints in a book like this. To insist that the book comply with some overarching notion of "fairness" would be to make oneself just the sort of threatening presence the authors rail very effectively against.
This volume is not "luminous" in the dreamy buzzword sort of way, but quite illuminating if you're not given to cowering in the face of reality. Avoiding the trap of clinical coldness, these pieces radiate strong arguments against the cultural/political insanity of the moment and in favor of exerting a gritty muscular truth against the delusional madness that surrounds us and imagines it can have it's way.
But through all of the smoke of battle, life, charm, and wit still manage to wonderfully assert themselves. My favorite gems were "The Rise of Antireligious Orthodoxy" by Mark Helprin (who manages to open with yet another one of his engaging Hudson River boyhood memories) and Mark T. Michell's "Ingratitude and the Death of Freedom". All in all, I heartily recommend this riveting collection.