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Why America Needs a Left: A Historical Argument 1st Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0745644844
ISBN-10: 0745644848
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Editorial Reviews


Winner of the Choice award for Outstanding Academic Title

"For those disenchanted citizens who have watched, open-mouthed, as America’s national politics have boon increasingly over-run with unabashed hypocrisy, this book will be a small current of fresh air showing the 'influence an intransigent minority can exert on a relatively passive majority'. Hopefully, this book will also be read as an impetus to serious political engagement and a return to participatory democracy in a post-Citizens United America."
LSE Politics Blog

"Eli Zaretsky's 1976 book Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life had a major impact on my generation of feminist thinkers. Now, with Why America Needs a Left, he reaches out to a new generation of activists, offering a brilliant analysis of the role of radicals in keeping America true to its noblest vision of itself. Historically sweeping and open to all sources of insight from pop culture to political theory, this book is a great pleasure to read. It's also a brave and timely call to a fresh era of struggle for social and economic justice."
Barbara Ehrenreich

"An exciting and necessary book for anyone interested in the history and future of US politics. Eli Zaretsky has written a sophisticated essay on the significance of the US left, one which is, at the same time, alert to historical contingency and rich with empirical insights."
Michael Kazin, Georgetown University

"Eli Zaretsky explores the historical relationship between the left and liberalism in the United States. While some historians dismiss the very notion of an American left, Zaretsky argues that it has made a profound impact on American political life."
Boston Review

About the Author

Eli Zaretsky is a Professor of History at the New School for Social Research

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Polity; 1 edition (March 12, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0745644848
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745644844
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,216,055 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Aaron C. Brown TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This intriguing book posits a specific role the American Left has played in US history. On one level the argument is obvious. There have always been people in every country who see moral truths before everyone else. At first these people are ignored, then dismissed, then vilified--until a time comes when the majority admit the critics are correct in theory, but too impatient, too radical, too ivory tower and simple minded to understand the practical subtleties of the issue. Then, for a brief, shining moment of crisis, the critics are heroes central to the action, but before they can take a breath, they are converted to plaster saints (which often requires major distortions of their careers and views).

But what is distinctively American or Left about such critics, and do they really matter? Professor Zaretsky claims the key is that the American Left has framed political-moral issues as questions of equality rather than justice or rights or practical compromise. At three critical points in US history, tiny groups of radical leftists have changed not the resolution of a crisis, but the meaning of that resolution.

The first example is the issue of slavery. There were many flavors of abolitionist. Slavery could be attacked as a matter of justice (why should this man own that man?), civil rights (where is the slave's right to liberty and the pursuit of happiness?) or expediency (slavery is not suited to modern political or economic ideas and is embarrassing). England outlawed slavery in 1833, without enormous struggle. It took 30 more years and a bloody war to do it in the US.

Zaretsky argues that it was leftist Abolitionists who insisted not just on an end to slavery but full racial equality.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
At a time when conservatism is so hegemonic that even liberal presidents like Obama are trapped within its logic, Zarestsky demonstrates the need to revive a real left. Since the Reagan regime, American political discourse has treated liberal and left as synonyms, equating opponents of capitalism, militarism and empire with supporters who believe the survival of a capitalist empire requires state intervention and appeasing the non-rich with social services. Zarestky makes it clear that the real left never dominated in the United States and does not expect it to assume power in the foreseeable future. However, he believes the absence of a left weakens liberals. If the only people whom they debate are far right, centrists (called leftists) will argue on rightwing turf and not even propose policies, which are feasible under capitalism and serve the 99%. For example, every advanced capitalist country, except the United States, protects its citizens with a medical care system underwritten by the state. Instead, America has Obamacare, which is basically a subsidy to private insurance companies, but has actually been labeled communist. Even citizens, who are not attracted to true leftist values, should listen to Zarestsky's advice. American capitalism faces a crisis, comparable to one Roosevelt confronted during the Great Depression. Then, there was a real left, whose existence allowed FDR to adopt policies, which are inconceivable today. Ironically, the rumbles of anti-capitalists allowed Roosevelt to save capitalism from itself. Whether you are a leftist, a liberal or a conservative, the suggestions Zarestsky makes in this book are well worth considering
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It seems pathetic that someone feels the need to make an argument, an historical one no less, for the continued relevancy of leftist thought in American society. Don't the concepts of civil rights, social and economic justice, and participatory democracy stand on their own and carry permanent weight with most (all?) societies?

Sadly, they don't; their influence ebbs and flows over time and location and they can be extinguished absent resistance from an active leftist movement.

Author, Eli Zaretsky, in "Why America Needs a Left: A Historical Argument" makes a plausible argument that the Left has had a crucial role in shaping American political and social identity especially during three major crisis periods-the Civil War era, the New Deal era, and the social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s and 70's.

Each of those crises had potential resolutions which presented options for society-a retreat to traditional authority forms and hierarchies or an advancement towards greater democracy, economic and social equality, and a more just society. It was the Left-the abolitionists (racial equality), the New Dealers, (economic and social quality), and the New Left (participatory democracy), respectively, which influenced the structures and identities of an evolving society in the direction of greater rights and democracy, the noblest vision of America in Mr. Zaretsky's view (although millions of others think just the opposite.)

America likely would be a much different place without the influence of the Left, he argues-more authoritarian, corporate, national, intolerant, and perhaps, even fascist (sort of like the Patriot Act, the "no-review" drone killings, and the like?)

The author is a professor of history at the New School for Social Research.
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