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The Future of American Progressivism

The Future of American Progressivism

by Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Cornel West

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Slim volume, broad implications. American progressives usually combine a devastating honesty about the failings of public policy with an optimistic outlook based on confidence in human beings. This contrasts starkly with the common tendency to paper over problems and injustices with slogans and vacuous principles volunteered by those who doubt the abilities of common people and welcome their quiescence. The recent popularity of the latter tendency makes Unger (Law/Harvard) and West's (Afro-American Studies/Harvard; Resisting Hope, 1997, etc.) revival of the former a welcome breath of fresh air. Whether or not you agree with them, at least they don't mince words. The co-authors identify the "oppressive contrast between the vitality and greatness of the country and the littleness and deadness of its public life" as the root cause of America's traditional struggles with race and class, as well as emerging problems in the new global economy. Their response is to call for democratizing the market economy and energizing representative democracy by unleashing the creative abilities of Americans. For we've always been tinkerers, people willing to experiment to find a better way. When it comes to institutions, however, visionaries have tried to convince us to "trade in some bad American exceptionalism for some good American experimentalism" without success. Unger and West argue that this must change. Their concerns include the influence of money on politics. While in the past this influence was "sanctified by the judiciary as if the ability of money to talk were a principle rather than a wrong," it is now time for government to stop upholding this dismal system and start innovating with publicfinancing. In a country where many Democrats aspire to be nothing more than generous Republicans, they maintain, this sort of re-emergent progressivism is needed to introduce a dose of American creativity. A bold political analysis that should inspire public life but, alas, probably will not.

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5.91(w) x 8.83(h) x 0.60(d)

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