Monday, June 20, 2011

Tea Party Book Review

Picked up Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift, by Paul Rahe, from the King County Library after reading about it at Powerline.  (Where Professor Rahe occasionally guest-posts.)

Review posted at Amazon:
From School Library Journal
Rahe has actually written two books in one: the first three quarters are a detailed reading of the great 18th- and 19th-century political and social theorists Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Tocqueville on the nature of government, the glue that holds the polity together, and the difficulty maintaining political virtue and, with it, individual freedom, in a democratic republic. The threat to liberty and civic virtue, as Tocqueville saw it, lay in the elimination of intermediate bodies (like townships) that directly involved citizens in governing. Without such intermediate bodies, democracy would drift into soft despotism, with a central government regulating the smallest details of the citizen's life. This part of the book is tightly reasoned, relying on a thoughtful reading of texts that still have great merit for our own age. The final section of the book is an impassioned, occasionally intemperate, but largely successful attempt to describe the malaise gripping democratic governments today, cobined with a plea to limit government's intrusion into our lives....
—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Before reading this book I knew little at all of Montesquieu, or of Rosseau's influence on political philosophy in the 18th and 19th centuries.  For that matter, I didn't know much more about  Tocqueville than that he visited the United States in the 1830s, and liked what he saw.

I've a lot of passages tabbed for quoting here; it's rare that I read a book from the library and think maybe I should by it, but this is one such case.

My timing in reading this was particularly fortuitous, as I had just finished The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815, by Tim Blanning, part of the Penguin History of Europe, so I had a lot of details fresh in my mind of stuff that even a self-professed history geek might never had learned in any detail, specifically the way in which Louis XIV of France, who is usually presented as a romantic, glamorous figure, worked so long and hard to destroy liberty in Europe.

Taken together, these books make me feel a whole lot smarter about what's going on, about what went wrong and how and when.  (Not to mention whom; the more I read about Theodore Roosevelt, the less respect I have for him...)

I stop short of saying that Soft Depotism should be required reading for any Tea party member, since things like "mandatory reading" are not exactly Tea party-esque, but it should certainly provide those concerned about the ever-growing influence of government in our lives with a good background.

Like I said, I will be posting excerpts over the next few days.

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