This week features books on polarization, American history, corruption, privatization, and philosophy. A few books like Democratic Resilience and Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin offer more academic reads, while American Kleptocracy and The Privatization of Everything look to reach a broader audience. Finally, Diana Schaub’s His Greatest Speeches will appeal to history buffs and scholars alike. In the meantime, don’t miss the latest podcast featuring Zoltan Barany where he discusses his book Armies of Arabia.
Last year Robert C Lieberman and Suzanne Mettler published an important work on American democracy called Four Threats. They used scenarios from American history to show how these four threats contributed to challenges for American democracy. They concluded the book with the ominous observation that all four threats had converged into the current historical moment. This edited volume takes a more optimistic look at American politics. Its title, Democratic Resilience, implies the United States will withstand the four threats.
Polarization was always more than one of the four threats. It exacerbated the repercussions of the other three. So, this edited volume is in ways a continuation of Lieberman and Mettler’s earlier work even though it narrowly focuses on the effects of polarization in American politics. That said, the contributions from other scholars make this book remarkable. It includes contributions from Paul Pierson, Jennifer McCoy and Murat Somer, Theda Skocpol, and many others. It’s an impressive assemblage of voices on different aspects of polarization or American politics.
Robert C Lieberman, Suzanne Mettler, and Kenneth M Roberts, Democratic Resilience: Can the United States Withstand Rising Polarization?
How Lincoln Moved the Nation
Abraham Lincoln has fascinated historians, politicians, and everyday Americans for generations. It’s disingenuous to imagine Lincoln was somehow rediscovered. At the same time, American politics could reflect more on Lincoln at this historical juncture. Radicals should look to his ideals, while moderates should focus on his ability to find compromise and reconciliation. Diana Schaub offers a line by line commentary on some of his most important speeches. It’s a great way to dive into Lincoln without the mythology. Moreover, it offers an opportunity to think about our own ability to communicate important ideas in important moments.
Diana Schaub, His Greatest Speeches: How Lincoln Moved the Nation
Good governance has become an important topic in comparative politics in recent years. While it includes many aspects, it often focuses on ways to root out corruption. Anyway, it normally focuses on nascent democracies or developing nations. Casey Michel offers reporting to show the United States has work to do at home to provide good governance. This is more of a work of journalism than political theory. However, it will likely draw the attention of academics alongside the educated public. It reminds me of Tom Burgis’ Kleptopia except with a narrative far closer to home.
Casey Michel, American Kleptocracy: How the U.S. Created the World’s Greatest Money Laundering Scheme in History
The Privatization of Everything
The line between the public and private sector has been hotly contested for decades if not longer. The Reagan and Thatcher Revolution shifted the line substantially in favor of privatization. Whether there was ever any merit for greater privatization in 1980, many scholars and activists today argued it has gone too far. Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian offer examples where the public ownership has gained greater momentum and succeeded. It comes across as part policy for wonks and part inspiration for activists.
Donald Cohen and Allen Mikaelian, The Privatization of Everything: How the Plunder of Public Goods Transformed America and How We Can Fight Back
Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin
Hannah Arendt and Isaiah Berlin are giants of twentieth century political thought. They tower over other philosophers, social scientists, and other intellectuals. Moreover, they share many commonalities such as their Jewish heritage and their commitment to human freedom. At the same time they approach freedom differently from one another. Kei Hiruta offers a novel exploration of their similarities and differences from an account of their personal experiences with each other rather than a dry textual analysis. Remarkably, this is a rare depiction of a “beef” between political philosophers that will allow the reader to understand their ideas in new ways.