Astra Taylor on the Paradoxes and Tensions of Democracy

Democracy May Not Exist Book CoverWhile democracy can be difficult to define and challenging to implement, the primary purpose can be stated as the prevention of minority powers from dominating majorities. The rule by one (monarchies and dictatorships), or the rule by few (aristocracies and oligarchies), gives disproportionate power to one person or a small group, allowing the minority group to impose their preferences on the majority, often at the majority’s expense.

Democracy, under the ideal of “one person, one vote,” is established to prevent this tyrannical rule. However, the introduction of democracy introduces its own challenges, the main one being the inverse problem of the “tyranny of the majority” imposing its preferences on minority groups. Democracy, unabated, can result in disastrous consequences for minorities and moral atrocities, the earliest example being the execution of Socrates by Athenian democracy for his crime of “corrupting the youth,” i.e., teaching people how to think for themselves.

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Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American

The Founding Myth Book CoverWas America founded as a Christian nation? As we’ll see, the answer is so obvious and the argument so lopsided that it’s a wonder the counter-argument is ever made at all. But unfortunately, Christian nationalism, which should be a politically impotent fringe movement, is in fact a powerful force that not only got Donald Trump elected but that has, with surprising success, redefined what it means to be an American.

That something as specious as Christian nationalism has and continues to influence public policy is the reason The Founding Myth, written by constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel, is so important. Ten years in the making, this phenomenal and deftly argued book comes at the perfect time, laying to rest the claim that America is in any way founded on Christianity.

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If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved — Book Review

If We Can Keep It by Michael TomaskyIf I told you that America today is deeply polarized, you could remind me that America has always been deeply polarized. You could point out that the current rural/urban divide is not so dissimilar from the Jeffersonian/Hamilton divide at the country’s founding. Or that the racial divide was never greater than during the Civil War, or that class division and conflict between labor and business was never greater than during the first Gilded Age and into the Great Depression. And you’d be right.

But what you’d be missing is the fact that polarization today is very different in a subtle way. As Michael Tomasky points out in his latest book, If We Can Keep It: How the Republic Collapsed and How it Might Be Saved, while we’ve always been a polarized country, our polarization has always consisted of both conflict between political parties and within parties. The fact that you used to have, for example, several liberal Republicans and several conservative Democrats meant that bipartisan coalitions could form to negotiate, compromise, and actually pass worthwhile legislation.

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Review of The Ideas That Made America: A Brief History

The Ideas That Made AmericaIn The Ideas That Made America, Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen provides a brief intellectual history of the United States from the first European contact to the present day, focusing on the movement of ideas across national and local borders and across time. Recognizing that new ideas are always dependent on the intellectual work of those who came before, Rosenhagen includes many of the European ideas that had a major impact on American intellectual life.

To summarize centuries of intellectual work in a short book of 180 pages is no easy task, but Rosenhagen does a reasonable job of presenting the major intellectual currents of each period. It’s well worth reading to get a high-level view of where our current ideas and conflicts originated.

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