Monday, June 01, 2009

Must Read

In "The State Despotic," New Criterion, June 2009, Mark Steyn reviews Paul Rahe, Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift.

Steyn's review is excellent; Rahe's book might be essential.

(If this seems too depressing, read my last post, and maybe this article, which I think is a classic...and, how about that, the article is now a book.)


dcat said...

I think this shows our ideological divide. What you call "excellent" and "essential" I call " flatulent" and "eh". The review is typical Steyn. "Excellent"? Not quite. Not even especially good. Unless by "good" you mean "partisan hackery." (I love that he uses quotation marks around "stimulus"). An "essential" book is a book that must be read. I'm going to guess they won't take tenure or my book contracts away when I don't read it.


Tom said...

I will concede the point that Steyn's review is only excellent from one side of the ideological divide. But methinks you are being too quick on the draw when it comes to Rahe. Having not read the book, I'm not sure that all of Rahe's argument is from one side of the spectrum.

Read it or don't read it, it's your time, but since when is the test of essential reading related to tenure or book contracts?

dcat said...

Tom --
The point is that a word like "essential" indicates that someone must read that book to be a good (I don't know -- you used the word -- historian? Citizen? Human being?) In that sense, it is simply not "essential," whether or not it is a good book.
But more to the point, I agree that the book itself probably is nowhere near as ideological as Steyn presents it. Steyn uses the book, which came out in mid-April 2009, and thus almost certainly cannot have anything in it about the Obama administration, to attack the Obama administration. And to do so with some pretty awful writing. seriously -- "Good King Barack the Hopeychanger"? In a review in a real publication? Save that shit for the blog posts. Actual publications have a much higher burden, or are supposed to, than blogs. That Steyn does not know the difference says a great deal more about his seriousness than it does about Obama.
In any case, I'm curious about this golden age of liberty that is implied in the review and therefore in the book. I suppose the question I ought to ask is "liberty for whom"? Because I'm pretty sick of white males bitching about the state of freedom these days. I think a pretty sound case can be made that more people are more free in the US than at any time in the nation's history. That strikes me as cause for celebration. But not when a Democrat is in power, God forbid.


Tom said...

See, this is a great discussion (albeit by two people who have not read the book), which might be a pretty good indication of essentialitudiness.

The questions are many, because clearly the state can help provide liberty and also can take away liberty. And perhaps your point that we are more free now is part of the issue. If the culture and the state have done the work of nearly elminating non-state impediments to liberty, then the state, by default, becomes the greatest threat to liberty. This interpretation can selectively cross political party lines, because if you buy it, it applies across administrations. And I think that captures a lot of the conservative angst with the George W. Bush years.

But it also has a lot to do with issues that have little to do with the state. Namely, the apparent declining sense of individual and civic responsibility (i.e.: what folks do with their liberty). Conservatives tend to focus on the former; liberals tend to focus on the latter. But there is a ton of crossover, because liberalism is build around individual rights and conservatism in America also has something to do with republicanism (especially when civic duty is tied to military service).

Having not read Rahe's book, but being somewhat aware of the thinkers he's talking about, I think the point is not that anyone has any evil intent that leads to soft despotism, but that the drift to despotism, soft and hard, is the nature of all states, republics included. This is not a liberal or conservative point, but our current climate leads us to try to cram every argument into our shallow political spectrum. To the extent that Rahe's book breaks from the trend, it might be an essential contribution to provide nourishment to an impoverished political dialogue.

N.B.: since you and I are the only ones reading this, I should mention that you eat poop.

g_rob said...

I'm reading and I think both of you are poop eaters.

That said, the review of Rahe's book is, as Derek believes, sloppy and filled with "look how witty I can be" crap like Good King Barack... But, I do tend to agree with Tom that the book could prove to be essential reading in, as Tom puts it, "provid[ing] nourishment to an impoverished political dialogue."

The other article that Tom mentions, Shop Class as Soulcraft is essential reading. Thanks for steering me to it, Tom. I have passed it on to many fellow teachers in my district. And, I am proud to say that my school offers the most shop-classes in our area with wood, welding, auto, mechatronics, CAD and electronics.

I am looking forward to reading the book.