Adventures in Book Reviewing

by Daniel on April 27, 2009

I think it’s generally agreed that the worst possible sin for a book reviewer is not to have read the book in question. However, what if you really really knew what the book was going to say? How about if you’d spent the previous five years obsessively maintaining a blog about the author, reading all of his published work and developing a whole political philosophy in reaction to his? If the book hadn’t quite come out yet, would you really feel like you had to wait until it did to write your response? Remember, when the thing comes out, it’s going to be reviewed by all sorts of people who have only the barest awareness of the context of the author’s views, and will most likely have skim-read the thing working to a deadline.

Basically, David Aaronovitch (the British Thomas Friedman) has a book in press entitled “Voodoo Histories: The Role Of The Conspiracy Theory In Shaping Modern History“. I’ve been aware that something like it was in the pipeline since 2006, when he delivered a lecture on the subject. I have a number of political disagreements with Aaro, and one of the most important ones is over his structural tendency to give politicians the benefit of the doubt, the origins of which I locate in his early career working on “Weekend World” with John Birt. I also don’t like the general tendency among commentators to act as if explanations of events by reference to covert or criminal/political activity were per se evidence of unseriousness or paranoia; after Watergate, Iran/Contra, P2, the Tonkin Gulf and the Zinoviev Letter one might have hoped that we would have learned a lesson. I’ve written an essay on this subject, over at “Aaronovitch Watch (Incorporating ‘World Of Decency’)”, in the form of a review of the forthcoming book. I honestly believe that more thought and effort has gone into it than is remotely likely to be exerted by any of the eventual reviewers who write with the benefit of having read a copy. See what you think.

What Teles Can Tell Us About Constitutional Change

by jack_balkin on April 27, 2009

Because constitutional change is a focus of my research these days, I thought I might say a few words about how Steve Teles’ book The <a href=”″>Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement</a> is important to contemporary theories of constitutional change. Teles’ book discusses how competition between different ideological groups occurs outside of the electoral process: through institution building, norm development and norm proliferation. These mechanisms are quite important to understanding constitutional change, and legal change more generally. [click to continue…]

What Liberals Shouldn’t Learn from Conservatives

by rick_perlstein on April 27, 2009

One of the impressive things about Steven Teles’ book is that it helped orient me better about the apparent implications of my own work. When I wrote Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, the notion that, in narrating the capture of the Republican Party by the conservative movement, I was offering advice to progressives (like me) about how to seize national power themselves, was distant in my mind if it was present at all. The exigencies of commercial promotion (a perhaps over-glib framing of the book as an allegory for liberals) and an accident of history (the cult-following the paperback developed among progressives wrapped up in the nascent Netroots and Howard Dean movements) led to the book being read rather narrowly: as a universally applicable “movement” blueprint.  Not infrequently I would receive phone calls and emails from avid left-insurrectionists for practical advice as to how a “progressive infrastructure” to match the conservative one built through and after the Goldwater campaigns. Not infrequently I would convince myself I had plenty to say on the subject—though not without ambivalence. When, of all extraordinary things, I was invited to address the Senate Democratic caucus on “building a progressive idea infrastructure,” I said what I pretty much still believe: interests, not ideas, have much more motor force in politics. Ideas are fine, but if anything progressives have too many ideas. But deliver some more middle class entitlements like free healthcare, I argued, and Democrats will really be on their way to a restored hegemony. [click to continue…]

I know, everyone read the New York Magazine piece with everyone singing Poor, Poor Pitiful Masters of the Universe. That was so a week ago. Thankfully, everything is back to normal. But let’s revisit ancient history. The following bit was especially wondered at (by Kevin Drum, for example): [click to continue…]