Review: The Idea that is America–Keeping Faith With Our Values in a Dangerous World

4 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Consciousness & Social IQ, Culture, Research, Democracy, Diplomacy, History, Justice (Failure, Reform), Philosophy, Politics, Public Administration, Values, Ethics, Sustainable Evolution, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Best of Intentions, Good Individual Effort,

February 20, 2010

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Now that my own book INTELLIGENCE for EARTH: Clarity, Diversity, Integrity, & Sustainaabilty is at the printer am back into reading and really looking forward to catching up with the 25 books on my “to do” shelf. This one jumped to the top of the list at the recommendation of James Fallows, recently back from China and author of Blind Into Baghdad: America’s War in Iraq among many other extraordinary books.

See my five-star review of the same author’s A New World Order, which is the better book for professionals. This book I recommend to those who are, like the author of the book, emerging counter-culture spirits, restless in harness, acutely aware of the hypocrisy of “Empire as Usual” under this nominally liberal Administration as under the last. My book Election 2008: Lipstick on the Pig (Substance of Governance; Legitimate Grievances; Candidates on the Issues; Balanced Budget 101; Call to Arms: Fund We Not Them; Annotated Bibliography) covers the same ground from a more pragmatic focus on the need for reality-based governance.

I have two competing views of this book. The first, beyond five stars, is earned by this quote from page 13:

QUOTE: In our history, the greatest patriots have been those leaders and ordinary citizens who have dared to hold America to our own highest standards–even at the cost of ostracism, punishment, imprisonment and, at times–e3ven death.” I would add unemployment to the list–Washington today does NOT want to hear truth about anything at all.

My second view is somewhat jaundiced, as the author is both limited to the usual suspects in her citations (a cup of Founding Fathers with a sprinkling Council on Foreign Policy elites holding forth on the ideals at the same time they are working actively against the public interest across the board).

This book is well-intentioned and absolutely a joy to read. The best thing I can say about it is that everyone should write such an essay in their lifetime, if only to reconnect to the fundamentals, however narrow their focus.

I would have left the book at five stars had the author not so much time on the myth of Lincoln and the Civil War.

The author loses a star with me when she parrots the Abraham Lincoln line and clearly buys in to the idea that the Civil War was about the abolition of slavery. That’s what I thought when I did my 110 page Senior Thesis (Singapore American High School) on the causes of the civil war. As a broadly read adult, I now know that it was a war by the industrial North against the agrarian South, against legitimate constitutional secession, followed by a twelve year carpetbagging military occupation and looting of the south. I know that Lincoln only freed the slaves the north did not control, out of “military necessity,” and that the slaves in the North and West remained slaves. Lincoln violated the Constitution in suspending habeas corpus, conscripting Northern men to fight their countrymen in the south, and in declaring war on voluntary members of the United STATES of America. See my reviews on the various books at Phi Beta Iota under “Worth a Look: Book Reviews on Self-Determination & Secession.” Her lack of knowledge (which I shared until recently) is representative of the fragmentation of knowledge and concentration of wealth that is killing the USA and the rest of the world, and the more I read, the more I am troubled by how ignorant we have all become, knowing more and more about less and less. This is a major reason why diversity joined clarity and integrity in the sub-title of my new book–without diversity of view so as to achieve holistic understanding, we cannot overcome the limitations of individuals including myself, and all the more so with respect to international and indigenous self-determination.

I absolutely love the author’s appreciation for information and information sharing. On page 233 I am delighted to find this:

QUOTE: On homeland security, it turns out that spreading information about threats rather than hoarding it under more and more layers of classification is more likely to protect us.

Yup. Been saying that for 21 years, and I am the recovering spy, not an academic isolated from the worst of the secret world (such as the 80 disparate rotten databases in the National Counterterrorism Center today, run by a lawyer whose life experience has not prepared him for the task of herding rabid cats, dogs, and the occasional skunk).

Highlight for me include:

+ Author assisted by a direct descendant of Nathan Hale, whose statue stands in front of CIA HQS.

+ Author totally connects and represents the idea that America is an idea, not just a place, an idea about humanity and self-determination.

+ Author is clearly deeply troubled by the hypocrisy of it all. Only this past month the earnest Secretary of State got laughed out of the Middle East for talking about Iran as a dictatorship when we are best pals with 42 of the 44 dictatorships on the planet (see Ambassador Mark Palmer’s superb Breaking the Real Axis of Evil: How to Oust the World’s Last Dictators by 2025), a number of them in the Middle East and the beneficiaries of our massive proliferation of weapons of public repression and destruction.

Other books along these lines that I recommend (easier to find my reviews at Phi Beta Iota, all linked back to their respective Amazon page but also sorted in like categories, 98 of them):
Counterculture Through the Ages: From Abraham to Acid House
What Kind of Nation: Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, and the Epic Struggle to Create a United States
The Thirteen American Arguments: Enduring Debates That Define and Inspire Our Country
Imagine: What America Could be in the 21st century
Preparing America’s Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

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