Monday, April 04, 2005

Book review--Reaganism

I finished reading Reaganism, by Walter Williams, today. It is a very persuasive study of the decline of democratic impulses in our federal government since 1980. What makes this valuable is that Williams defines this decline by showing the attendant rise of plutocratic governance, comparing our current situation to that of similar episodes in American history (The Gilded Ages of the late-19th C. and the Roaring 20s.) Williams notes 5 forces contributing to the assault on what he has defined as "Madisonian representative democracy":
Reaganism, with its antigovernmentism, its market fundamentalism, its belief that individual and family pure self-interest should guide behavior, and its embrace of national myths that together have made it the nation's dominant political philosophy and fostered a powerful ideology of the right;
Big-money politics, fueled by the growing maldistribution in income and wealth, which has filled the huge campaign war chests of reelection-fixated politicians in order to buy access and influence in Washington;
The information explosion, which has yielded increased levels of information overload, incorrect or misleading information, and distorted commentary;
The media, which have become profit driven and failed to provide enough sound political information and analysis to inform the American people about the major policy and political issues of the day; and
The American electorate, which has failed to fulfill the obligations of citizenship because of its lack of sound political information and knowledge and its unwarranted confidence in its capacity to select good candidates and understand policy issues.
Sorta covers it all, doesn't it? Williams' arguments are well-supported by endnotes ranging from graduate-level American history texts such as Gordon Wood's massive Creation of the American Republic to relatively non-partisan polling and governmental data to newspaper articles. What I found most useful in Williams' book was his historical perspective; the destruction of our political landscape can be laid at the Reagan Administration's doorstep, due to its persistently negative attacks on our federal government itself. Once the populace was seduced into thinking that any government was bad, it became an easy sell to lower taxes and (more invisibly) services. In that climate, only those rich enough to do without public services are served by the stripped-down plutocracy. Williams allows for regenerative influences as well--after all, we came out of our earlier plutocratic eras--but unfortunately, this modern version of anti-government seems to be more pervasive and pernicious, as witnessed by our current Administration's willful destruction of whole agencies and our national economy to boot. Meanwhile, most of the populace is seemingly too disinterested, bored, or selfish to realize that without the ideal of a common good, no democracy can survive, including our own. We are not immune to what befell Greece, or Weimar Germany . . .


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