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The Fight Is for Democracy: Winning the War of Ideas in America and the Worldby George Packer
Synopses & Reviews
The nine essays in this book deal with the question of what American democracy stands for after September 11. They come in a variety of styles and voices, and there are disagreements between them. What they have in common is an attachment to the ideals of American democracy, a dissatisfaction with its current practice, and a belief that we are engaged in a war for world opinion, a war of ideas. No one should doubt that we are losing it — and that this has something to do with the condition of American democracy. Our leaders have failed to articulate what we are fighting for beyond our own security and the assertion of our power around the world; and the failure is no accident or "missed opportunity." It comes from the fact that they themselves have no ardor for democracy. The ideals of freedom and equality, secularism, tolerance, and critical inquiry that have lain at the heart of the American experiment from the beginning get lip service from those in power; much of the world, with some reason, sees America's commitment to them as shallow and hypocritical.
The fight against political Islam isn't a clash of civilizations, and it isn't an imperialist campaign. As Paul Berman writes, it is a conflict of ideologies and they come down to the century-old struggle between totalitarianism and liberal democracy. There is no possibility of a negotiated peace, because the ideologies are incompatible — they can't coexist. "Between democracy and totalitarianism there can be no compromise," said an authority on the subject, Benito Mussolini. Leaving aside the implacable foes who want us dead, America has to persuade people around the world that this is their fight, too; that theside of liberal democracy is where their hope lies.
In the war on terror, the ultimate enemy isn't a method, even one as apocalyptically menacing as al-Qaeda style terrorism. It's the outlook that produced al-Qaeda— in this case, political Islam, but at bottom the view of all people who fear and hate the modern democratic world, with its fluidity, its openness, its assertion of the individual's freedom and of human equality. America is the most vibrant example. America is also the world's leading power, constantly racking up resentments. It's this combination of facts that makes our situation as complex and delicate as it is.
America is seen by much of the world as an empire without actual colonies, perhaps the most dominant since Rome. To Americans this view is bewildering. Unlike the British or the French, Americans have never had an interest in empire building. They elect presidents who have barely traveled abroad, eliminate the U.S. Information Service and shut down cultural centers in foreign capitals, resent being "the world's policeman," and pride themselves on their ignorance of other countries. Throughout the decade after the Cold War ended, American military action and inaction, corporate dominance, and cultural influence were making us the object of hope and confusion and anger among hundreds of millions of people, from Kigali to Jakarta. Meanwhile, it's difficult to think of a period when Americans showed less interest in the rest of the world. Genocide, famine, plague, economic upheaval, filthy wars on every continent, and, of course, international terrorism — an incredibly tumultuous period (at what was supposed to be the end of history), but citizens ofthe world's superpower largely succeeded in not paying attention. While we were absorbed with Internet chat rooms and a blue Gap dress, power and resentment accumulated in front of our noses or behind our backs. Even the battle over multiculturalism turned out to have nothing to teach us about anyone else — it was an internal fight and a ritualized one, the narcissism of small differences. September 11 came as an immense slap to this immense complacency.
The real question is not whether America is an empire, but what to do with the power we have. It's a question with which Americans are instinctively uncomfortable, none more than those who think of themselves as liberals. Much of what made up liberal thinking in the past few decades will be of no help from now on. The reluctance to make judgments, the finely ironic habits of thought, the reflexive contempt for patriotism, the suspicion of uniforms and military qualities, the sentimentality about oppressed peoples, the irresponsibility about hard choices, the embarrassment with phrases like "democratic values" and "Western civilization" — the softheadedness into which liberalism sank after the 1960s seems as useless today as isolationism in 1941 or compromise in 1861. If there is any guide to this strange new era in our recent past, it could be the liberal anti-Communism of the postwar period (discussed by Michael Tomasky), which confidently defended democracy in the face of totalitarianism but also took economic justice and nation building seriously. It was both tough and wise; it had a decent respect for the opinion of mankind; it understood the struggle against Communism to be a struggle for hearts and minds.
So is the currentconflict. Kanan Makiya's essay looks at the political psychology of his native Iraq and, more broadly, that region where democracy has been slowest to take hold. Breaking the seal of tyranny in the Arab world and letting in fresh liberal air is a matter of our security as much as their freedom. But the ultimate audience for this fight is neither in the West nor in the Arab countries, but among the vast majority of the world's poor. Beyond the struggle to survive — to avoid disease, find enough to eat, educate their children, stay out of the way of men with guns— people in Asia and Africa and Latin America increasingly wonder whether the modern world holds a place for them, whether dignity and a decent life and a sense of identity are possible. This is an economic problem, but not only that — it's also cultural and, in a way, existential. Globalization — the subject of William Finnegan's essay — didn't lose its importance on September 11. Just the opposite: It underlies everything else, and the shape it takes in the new century will determine whether the world's poor see America as a beacon or a blackmailer.
Without a vibrant, hardheaded liberalism in America, the era that began on September 11, 2001, will continue in the direction that we now see: narrow, defensive, chauvinistic, an American war for American security that leaves the rest of the world feeling ignored or threatened. The title of a conservative manifesto proclaimed "Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. Moral clarity is not why we should fight; it is why the other side fights. What the title of Vijay Seshadri's essay calls our "idea of transcendence" is secular and democratic — an idea of humanpossibility, not fixed and eternal truth. Beyond sheer physical survival, a liberal civilization like ours should fight for the ability to remain open to what's foreign or unknown, tell leaders what they don't want to hear, tolerate moral uncertainty, act in spite of self-criticism, and ask questions like: Can a civilization remain liberal when it's as heavily armed as ours? Can a fight for democracy be led by the world's greatest power?
As Laura Secor discusses in her essay, liberals have an uneasy relationship with force. Force has no sense of complexity. It reduces everything to the elemental level where thinking is trampled under-foot. When America entered World War I, an argument broke out among the first generation of Americans to call themselves liberals. On one side, people like the editors of "The New Republic saw the war as an international extension of progressive reform. In language as exalted as their hero Woodrow Wil
Book News Annotation:
Nine essays, by writers such as Michael Tomaskey (New York magazine), Todd Gitlin (Columbia U.), Kanan Makiya (Brandeis U.), and Laura Secor (the Boston Globe), are presented as examples of "hard-headed liberalism" and address a range of political issues of post-9/11 American domestic and foreign politics. Tomaskey argues that if liberals and the Democratic party start standing up to the Bush administration on foreign policy, they will also be able to achieve more on the domestic front; Gitlin attacks the "anti-American left" for being insufficiently patriotic; Makiya argues that the Arab world is mired in a culture of victimhood; and Secor defends the bombing of Yugoslavia as the type of bombing we should support. Other essays address issues of globalization, economic inequality, and the role of American intellectuals with a similar brand of "hard-headed liberalism." Annotation (c)2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
< p> Americans aren't fighting just a war on terrorism ... they are fighting, and losing, a war of ideas.< /p> < p> This riveting collection of original essays by some of the best political minds in America argues that the post& #150; September 11 era has put American democracy itself on trial. In short, defeating terrorism requires us to live up to our own ideals. In < i> The Fight Is for Democracy< /i> , nine leading writers take a hard, and at times personal, look at American life and America's role in the world. These pieces share a belief in the need for liberal reform at home and abroad. Power alone is not enough to win hearts and minds around the world. The war against terrorism should be a war for democracy.< /p> < p> Edited and with an Introduction by George Packer, < i> The Fight Is for Democracy< /i> pushes the national debate in provocative new directions with essays on: < /p> < ul> < li> Domestic politics and foreign policy — Michael Tomasky, political columnist for < i> New York magazine< /i> < br> < br> < li> Human rights and intervention — Laura Secor, < i> Boston Globe< /i> staff writer< br> < br> < li> Secularism — Vijay Seshadri, author and professor at Sarah Lawrence College< br> < br> < li> Patriotism — Todd Gitlin, author and professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University< br> < br> < li> Politics in the Arab World — Kanan Makiya, author and professor at Brandeis University< br> < br> < li> Intellectuals and American culture — Susie Linfield, associate director of the Cultural Reporting and Criticism program atNew York University< br> < br> < li> Globalization — William Finnegan, staff writer at < i> The New Yorker< /i> < br> < br> < li> Economic inequality — Jeff Madrick, editor of < i> Challenge< /i> magazine< br> < br> < li> Liberalism and terror — Paul Berman, contributing editor of < i> The New Republic< /i> < /ul>
Americans aren't fighting just a war on terrorism ... they are fighting, and losing, a war of ideas.
This riveting collection of original essays by some of the best political minds in America argues that the post-September 11 era has put American democracy itself on trial. In short, defeating terrorism requires us to live up to our own ideals. In The Fight Is for Democracy, nine leading writers take a hard, and at times personal, look at American life and America's role in the world. These pieces share a belief in the need for liberal reform at home and abroad. Power alone is not enough to win hearts and minds around the world. The war against terrorism should be a war for democracy.
Edited and with an Introduction by George Packer, The Fight Is for Democracy pushes the national debate in provocative new directions with essays on:
About the Author
George Packer is the author of two novels and two works of non-fiction, most recently Blood of the Liberals, which won the 2001 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award. A recent Guggenheim Fellow, he contributes to "The New York Times Magazine", "The New Yorker", "Dissent", and other publications. He lives in Brooklyn.
Table of Contents
Introduction : Living up to it / George Packer — Between Cheney and Chomsky : making a domestic case for a new liberal foreign policy / Michael Tomasky — The giant in the house / Laura Secor — Ideas of transcendence / Vijay Seshadri — Varieties of patriotic experience / Todd Gitlin — Arab demons, Arab dreams : 1967-2003 / Kaan Makiya — The treason of the intellectuals (again) / Susie Linfield — Globalization meets pachamama / William Finnegan — Inequality and democracy / Jeff Madrick — Thirteen observations on a very unlucky predicament / Paul Berman.
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