Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism

Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism

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by Cornel West
     
 

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In his major bestseller, Race Matters, philosopher Cornel West burst onto the national scene with his searing analysis of the scars of racism in American democracy. Race Matters has become a contemporary classic, still in print after ten years, having sold more than four hundred thousand copies. A mesmerizing speaker with a host of fervidly devoted

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Overview

In his major bestseller, Race Matters, philosopher Cornel West burst onto the national scene with his searing analysis of the scars of racism in American democracy. Race Matters has become a contemporary classic, still in print after ten years, having sold more than four hundred thousand copies. A mesmerizing speaker with a host of fervidly devoted fans, West gives as many as one hundred public lectures a year and appears regularly on radio and television. Praised by The New York Times for his "ferocious moral vision" and hailed by Newsweek as "an elegant prophet with attitude," he bridges the gap between black and white opinion about the country's problems.

In Democracy Matters, West returns to the analysis of the arrested development of democracy-both in America and in the crisis-ridden Middle East. In a strikingly original diagnosis, he argues that if America is to become a better steward of democratization around the world, we must first wake up to the long history of imperialist corruption that has plagued our own democracy. Both our failure to foster peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis of Islamist anti-Americanism stem largely from hypocrisies in our dealings with the world. Racism and imperial expansionism have gone hand in hand in our country's inexorable drive toward hegemony, and our current militarism is only the latest expression of that drive. Even as we are shocked by Islamic fundamentalism, our own brand of fundamentalism, which West dubs Constantinian Christianity, has joined forces with imperialist corporate and political elites in an unholy alliance, and four decades after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insidious racism still inflicts debilitating psychic pain on so many of our citizens.

But there is a deep democratic tradition in America of impassioned commitment to the fight against imperialist corruptions-the last great expression of which was the civil rights movement led by Dr. King-and West brings forth the powerful voices of that great democratizing tradition in a brilliant and deeply moving call for the revival of our better democratic nature. His impassioned and provocative argument for the revitalization of America's democracy will reshape the terms of the raging national debate about America's role in today's troubled world.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Uncompromising and unconventional . . . Cornel West is an eloquent prophet with attitude." —Newsweek

"West reveals himself as a thinker of dazzling erudition, whose critiques are inevitably balanced by an infectious optimism and magnanimity of spirit" —The Village Voice

Lester K. Spence
The new book is richer and more compelling largely because it contains a historical component that was mostly neglected in its predecessor. In his chapter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, West boils down several decades' worth of history on the movement for a Jewish state into just 30 pages. West has long been interested in Jewish culture (a chapter of Race Matters was devoted to the relationship between blacks and Jews, and he wrote a book with Tikkun magazine's Michael Lerner on the subject), so this is a natural extension. He does a yeoman's job of presenting the history clearly and succinctly for the layperson. And given the minefield this subject represents for scholars, he does an admirable job of critiquing both Israeli (and American Jewish) elites and their Palestinian counterparts, while arguing that the central problem remains the lack of a Palestinian state.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
A sequel to 1993's Race Matters, West's latest aims to "look unflinchingly at the waning of democratic energies and practices in our present age of American empire." Such orotund language pervades the book, which expands philosophically on extant critiques but offers little practical or programmatic advice. American democracy, argues West, is threatened by free market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism and escalating authoritarianism. He criticizes Republicans as evangelical nihilists driven by delusions of American domination, Democrats (including John Kerry) as paternalistic nihilists accepting a corrupt system and most news organizations as sentimental nihilists sacrificing truth for distraction. With intermittent journeys through Tocqueville, Melville, King, Emerson, Twain and Morrison, among others, he lingers in the Middle East (supporting security for Israel and freedom for Palestinians), and calls fiercely for an American Christianity that evokes the Christian ideals of love and justice, and that advocates deeper engagement with youth culture-which leads to a nine-page account of how his outreach led to a clash with Harvard president Larry Summers and his departure for Princeton. Echoing his 1993 demand for improvisational "jazz freedom fighter[s]," West here invokes the blues, which "forge a mature hope that fortifies us on the slippery tightrope of Socratic questioning and prophetic witness in imperial America." Agent, Gloria Loomis for Watkins Loomis Agency. Author tour. (On sale Sept. 13) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
West offers a compelling, exciting argument in this sequel to his 1992 best seller, Race Matters. With an impassioned voice he decries the dangerous drift America has taken from our original ideals of freedom and democracy. Three trends, or dogmas as he calls them, are to blame: the first is a "callous free market fundamentalism" that puts self and profit above all else; secondly, the United States has adopted an aggressive militarism that has made us reviled and feared worldwide, in essence, the same feelings engendered by the gangsters and thugs who attacked us; and finally, our reaction to the terrorist attack of 9/11 has led to escalating authoritarianism. West urges that we go back to the roots we adapted from earlier cultures-Socratic questioning from the Greeks, a prophetic commitment to justice from the Jews, and a tragicomic commitment to hope as exhibited in the black freedom struggle and in blues and jazz. He concludes with a call to action to regain the country and its ideals. Highly recommended for all libraries.-Deb West, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Imperialism bad, democracy good: a lackluster excursion into the realm of the obvious. This latest offering by author and academic celebrity West (Restoring Hope, 1997, etc.) resembles nothing so much as a sermon written in a hurry and delivered to the choir. Only the converted will be moved by set pieces such as: "When Bush smiles after his carefully scripted press conferences of little substance, we do not know whether he is laughing at us or getting back at us as we laugh at him-as the press meanwhile hurries to concoct a story out of his cliches and shibboleths." (Shibboleths?) Or: "How ironic that in America we've moved so quickly from Martin Luther King's 'Let Freedom Ring' to the 'Bling! Bling!'-as if freedom is reducible to simply having material toys, as dictated by free-market fundamentalism." (So Puffy and Jay-Z are now disciples of von Mises?) Or: "Western-style democracy has no future in the Islamic world. The damage has been done, the wounds are deep, and the die has been cast by the hypocritical European and nihilistic American imperial elites." And how to battle Big Corporatism and Imperial Globalism, as well as those hypocrites and nihilists? Well, we can start by embracing a "Socratic-driven, prophetic-centered, tragicomic-tempered, blues-inflected, jazz-saturated" vision "that posits America as a confident yet humble democratic experiment that should be shoring up international law and multilateral institutions that preclude imperial arrangements and colonial invasions." (Whew.) And, West adds, as if channeling Charles Reich, we can listen to the kids, who are picked on and misunderstood by such brutalizing forces as Harvard University president Lawrence Summers-who,notoriously, caused West's defection from Harvard to Princeton after questioning his scholarship. West's self-serving account of that affair seems out of place in a polemic on democracy vs. imperialism. But, concrete rather than abstract and full of real emotion ("President Summers had messed with the wrong Negro"), it's the best thing here. Author tour. Agent: Gloria Loomis/Watkins Loomis

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143035831
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
08/16/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
240
Sales rank:
255,210
Product dimensions:
5.35(w) x 8.01(h) x 0.49(d)
Age Range:
18 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

The great dramatic battle of the twenty-first century is the dismantling of empire and the deepening of democracy. This is more a colossal fight over visions and ideas than a catastrophic struggle over profits and missiles. We live at a moment in which it has become fashionable to celebrate the benefits of imperial rule and to accentuate the deficiencies of democratic governance. The prevailing climate of opinion and culture of consumption makes it difficult to even conceive of new democratic possibilities and practices.

This slow yet frightening imperial devouring of American democracy flows from a lethal combination of free market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism, and escalating authoritarianism. Free market fundamentalism—just as significant as religious fundamentalisms—not only posits the unregulated market as idol and fetish; it also devalues and demeans nonmarket activities like critical thought, compassionate temperament, and laughter at self and society. No democracy can survive without these precious commitments. No vital sense of public interest and common good can be sustained without these humanistic convictions.

Plutocratic economic arrangements—in which elite greed runs amok—create an unhealthy hemorrhage of wealth at the very top of society. This top-heavy inequality puts a premium on instant success and short-term gain by any means and at any cost. It also erodes the fragile democratic trust between classes and groups. Needless to say, it sends an explosive message to the most vulnerable that they neither count nor matter. Democracies reap social chaos when such plutocratic seeds are sowed.

Aggressive militarism—whether abroad, as in armed invasion in Iraq, or at home, as in police violations—heralds force as the desirable means of resolving problems. It demotes diplomacy and degrades dialogue—two crucial pillars of any democratic regime. And, as with Sophocles’ Creon in Antigone, the preoccupation with might easily leads to myopic arrogance and hideous hubris of nations and persons. As the mechanisms of deliberation and modes of cooperation weaken, unchecked power reigns supreme. No democracy can thrive without legitimate forms of accountability containing such power.

Escalating authoritarianism feeds public paranoia and cuts off the democratic lifeblood of any society. The curtailment of liberties and the repression of rights make the hard-won rule of law suspect. The subtle censorship of media and narrowing of political discourse disempowers citizens and discourages novel approaches to pressing problems. The ideological monitoring of schools and universities dampens the imagination and ingenuity of talented and creative young people. Freedom of expression is the indispensable precondition for any democratic experiment.

The perennial battle between empire and democracy—that reaches from Athens to America—sits at the center of human efforts to preserve decency and dignity, excellence and elegance, freedom and equality. We not only ignore it at our own peril; we also must acknowledge that the very moral grounds of our prosperity are at stake.

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Uncompromising and unconventional . . . Cornel West is an eloquent prophet with attitude." —Newsweek

"West reveals himself as a thinker of dazzling erudition, whose critiques are inevitably balanced by an infectious optimism and magnanimity of spirit" —The Village Voice

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