Crash Course in Politics?
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I'm new to this group -- and LibraryThing in general -- so I apologize if there has already been a thread like this. I looked but I couldn't find one. I would have posted this in American Politics but the last post was around a year ago, so I figured that you guys would be able to help me more.
I've basically been ignoring American Politics all of my life. Before you freak out, I would like to say that I'm only seventeen and so I felt like it would be time and effort wasted on something that I had no control over. I live in a very conservative house and I'm more of a Liberal than anything else, and my parents know very little about politics to begin with.
So, as I'm nearing eighteen, I want to become more aware of what is going on with my country. I'd like to read both unbiased and biased perspectives from both Right and Left wing sides. I've already been told to read Fareed Zakaria's books and the bloggers Michelle Malkin, Andrew Sullivan, and Scott Ott.
So, any recommendations on blogs or books would be really, really appreciated. Thank you so much in advance. (:
Edited to fix typo.
Thank you so much for the wonderful recommendations! Both of the Thomas Frank books are at my local library and the E. J. Dionne book is now on my 'to buy' list for the next time I go to the bookstore.
I will be sure to keep your opinion in mind when I check out Michelle Malkin, haha.
Magazines: some online: Slate, The Nation, The New Republic, Mother Jones; all have blogs
From the left: The Noam Chomsky Reader
From the right? The only writer I've ever been able to stomach is George Will, and then, only when he's writing about baseball; today, the screeds put out by the right seem to be "sound and fury signifying nothing"
For American electoral politics: Gay Place-Brammer, Primary Colors-Anonymous, and one of the "Making of the President" books by THWhite: 64,68,72.
remusly: I'd like to read both unbiased and biased perspectives from both Right and Left wing sides.
Magazines: some online: Slate, The Nation, The New Republic, Mother Jones; all have blogs
From the left: The Noam Chomsky Reader
From the right? The only writer I've ever been able to stomach is Gary Wills
A reply to her question? Both sides? Oh, here's some Ann Coulter!
Another blog you may be interested in is Matthew Yglesias. While Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter are cynical blowhards, reading them will give you an introduction to wing-nuttery that you couldn't get otherwise.
Read Al Franken's book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them for a primer on how to read Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter.
Probably the most important books you can read on American Politics are The Federalist by Hamilton, Madison, and Jay and, if you can find it, Notes of Debates in the Federal Convention of 1787 Reported by James Madison. If you can't find Madison's Notes there are plenty of books about Madison and his notes. These two will give you a crash course in the civics you are probably not getting in school. These two lay out how the government is suppose4d to work, what checks and balances mean and how they are implemented in the Consititution. Before you can chase after the sprinters you must understand the rules of the race. If one side or the other accuses the other of subverting our government, or denying human rights, or of placing politics before country, or any of the BS politicians are famous for, learn just what it is they are or are not subverting. Learn what the government can and cannot do. Read the debates of the FF, every one of them smarter and more committed to good governance than ninety percent of the folks who lead this country today. Know what the country is supposed to be before you go off to fix it.
You may want to read Russell Kirk, Edmund Burke, and William F. Buckley to understand classical Conservatism, a set of positions with an awful lot to offer. They're not the same as what passes for Conservatism today.
Read Marx, Engels and Lenin for a look at more socialist models of governance. Then read Trotsky. To see the excesses of this system read The Gulag Archipelago.
Oh, I almost forgot. Read a good book on the Terror during the French Revolution.
You will want to read Baudrillard, Bordieu, Derrida, Heideggar, Hitler and Nietzsche for contemporary Republican political philosophy. I'm sure there are dozens of others, but if you get what these guys are selling, you'll get the jist of it. For another look at particularly dangerous wing-nuttery at work in our public institutions read The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power by Jeff Sharlet. To understand all the fuss over ex-VP, Dick Cheney, and what is wrong with his leadership style read Conservatives without Conscience by John Dean.
Read The True Believer by Eric Hoffer. This is a must.
Read The Prince for pragmatism (some might say, pragmatism run amok).
For some contemporary Progressivism read Banana Republicans: How the Right Wing is Turning America Into a One-Party State, and Thieves in High Places: They've Stolen Our Country and It's Time to Take It Back and Bushwacked (life In George W. Bush's America) and The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: The Truth About Corporate Cons, Globalization and High-Finance Fraudsters. The people who wrote these are the liberals answer to Coulter/Malkin. Compare and contrast when you have read some of both sets of readings.
I guess my point and the point of some other posters here is that our current politics was not received in whole cloth from the heavens, it is the result of years and years of development.
Of all the books I have suggested in these two posts start with The Federalist and the Notes. It's the result of their work that created the governing system we have. Learn that and you will be able to compare and contrast these others in light of the gold standard. Then Burke.
Can we remove Chomsky too? Coulter has proposed invading the Middle East and converting them to Christianity. Chomsky defended the Khmer Rouge, who killed over a million Cambodians, starting decadents who could read, in the name of socialist progress. I don't know if they're insane, but they're both capable of extraordinarily evil opinions.
Some on the extreme left are easily duped; what Chomsky said was that the American govt. lied about the number of people PolPot had killed; and when Pol Pots's murderousness came out, he never addressed it. Others on the left that were duped: those who embraced "Uncle Joe" Stalin during WWII, and the "Fair Play for Cuba Committe". This is why I'm not an extreme left-winger: I'm always wary of getting duped by the "religious" zeal they seem to have for socialist leaders. Besides, I like my Capitalism, I just want it spread around a little....(I'm just a Democrat) So, I wouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water; Chomsky has some studied and incisive criticisms of America that should be considered, if not embraced.
Ann Coulter I take with a grain of salt; she's said she exists on coffee, cigarettes, and champagne; I think it's affected her ability to think rationally ;-) Seriously, she comes off as a media hog and grandstander, not a serious analyst of American politics, IMHO......
To add to 18th and 19th century American history and politics: DeToqueville's America, McCullough's book on John Adams, and Ben Franklin's Autobiography.
Chomsky is a serious guy with original (if, I think, quite wrong) ideas. (He's a MAJOR figure in linguistics, but it's almost entirely separate from his political views.) Coulter is more of a yammering head.
Agreed. That is to say, I agree with the yammering head remark and I, too, disagree with a lot of Chomsky; however, I do think there is a link between linguistics, political rhetoric, and political action.
I'd like to read both unbiased and biased perspectives from both Right and Left wing sides.
If your purpose is to better understand politics, that approach might be somewhat limiting. It helps to have a more "outside" perspective. Try listening to Free Talk Live. They will offend just about everyone both left and right along the political spectrum. Archives of the show are in the left-hand margin with last night's Labor Day broadcast up at the top.
I am actually aware of how the government works, or how it is supposed to, anyway. I have read a lot of history about this subject, so I'm looking for a less dated perspective, but I will definitely check out all that you have recommended. Thanks!
I'm most intrigued by specific points of view, which is why I mentioned perspectives, but I'll try listening to them.
I really appreciate all of the books that everyone has recommended and I'm excited by all of the research that this is going to give me. Thanks so much, everyone!
Seems like you have plenty of suggestions! Perhaps you would be interested in some shorter introductions, such as Ed Laing's You Don't Have to be a Saint to be a Socialist. If you find that interesting, Hal Draper's Two Souls of Socialism is not that much longer, though (like many of the books already mentioned) it focuses more on history than on contemporary politics.
geneg recommended Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky for a look at socialism -- another tall order! I would suggest checking out only the Communist Manifesto and Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, only reading more if you're absolutely fascinated. (That's all the Marx I've ever bothered to read; while I am a socialist, I'm not a Marxist.)
I've heard good things about Thomas Sowell's book on Marxism. I mention Sowell specifically because he is a former Marxist who has become a prominent conservative writer, so you may be interested in checking out more by him. (I haven't read any of his books, though I've wanted to. I've read some of his columns, but they were less than impressive.)
Ohhh; forgot about Howard Zinn.....People's History of the United States
Howard Zinn is a must! I have read Sowell and he is a good writer and makes some interesting/provocative arguments, but overall, I am not bowled over. A good read, though. I would also propose Studs Terkel as part of a good read on political history in the US, more in the form of "directly from the voices of the people" kind of angle.
Very few people have read—and particularly, enjoy—both Sowell and Zinn.
Yes, Studs Terkel's Working and Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed are good reads. Re: your other post about Guatemala- sorry to hear things are as bad as they were 30 years ago; I had a friend who tried to homestead there in the late 70's but came back to the US due to the depressing poverty there and governmental oppression.
Daschaich is quite right to point out that not all socialists are Marxists.
Socialisms by English academic-turned-politicianTony Wright is a good introduction to the many strands of socialism, though a bit academic in places.
If I had a criticism, it would be that he talks entirely in terms of schools of thought, less in terms of activity. The book does not reflect the fact that socialists campaign to save people`s jobs for instance. Also there is no reflection on the fact that on the ground proponents of the various strands of socialism (outside of the wilder fringes) have always worked together, and indeed in concert with non-socialists, to get results.
Perhaps the former academic in him considers these earthly pre-occupations beneath his dignity, perhaps the professional politician in him finds them inconcvenient. Still, it`s a good book and he is not the worst of them.
It`s true that Marx had some notions that were flawed from the outset, others that have been disproved in the fullness of time, but there is still a lot to be learned from Marxism (though personally, I neither know or care whether I qualify as a `real Marxist` or not). In the UK we had a tradition of Marxists writing books aimed at the ordinary reader - I gather these are discussed by Edwin A Roberts in The Anglo-Marxists. Digging into my admittedly faulty memory I think What is Marxism aka An introduction to Marxism by Emile Burns was good, though I gather the author himself was a mad tanky. You can read it online for free if you search about a bit.
To be more up-to-date, I also enjoyed Reflections on Socialism by Sam Webb, and I would imagine the the new book from Daniel Rubins , called either Can Capitalism Last ? or Can Capitalism Survive ? would be good.
Lastly, I`m told that marxists.org , which contains a great number of Marxist works in their entirety, has expanded it`s scope to take in other areas of thought (social democrats, democratic socialists), so that might save people a bit of money.
...On that note, if anyone is strapped for cash and looking for some cheap reading matter, I was looking at the website for the Socialist Party USA the other day and noticed they were selling books at heavily discounted prices.
I quite fancy the Rebel Lives series myself, but suppose I`d be better off picking them up closer to home.
I was looking at the website for the Socialist Party USA the other day and noticed they were selling books at heavily discounted prices
That's how political markets correct. Their cheap books will flood America and ten years hence we'll have a Socialist Party president.
#24: If we must make a more accurate jibe of them, people in the red states strangely think that the previous president wasn't a socialist. Though blue staters think that too, which just begs the question of what the difference between red and blue is beyond arbitrary partisanship. Kind of makes the whole search for a crash course on American politics look more like a search for a crash course on the debate over the number of angels dancing on the head of a pin. It's great stuff if you want to waste your time.
I began seriously reading about politics at only a few years younger than you are now.
After more than thirty years of continued study, here are the authors whose writings remain for me the most valued and who I continue to regard as having been indispensible to my own political education.
For me, one of the luckiest strokes that ever happened to me was to have early chanced upon the work of Bertrand Russell, a renaissance man who remains for me the quintessential example of what a political liberal is and should be. If you read his A History of Western Philosophy you'll gain far more, though, than only a view of liberal political thought. You'll also have what I think of as combining the in one place the fairest and most comprehensive account of the full spectrum of political thought from "Left" to "Right" as it developed from ancient Greece to the mid-20th century. Just as valuable as his History is an anthology of Russell's writings entitled, The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell drawn from the many collections of essays he wrote over the decades.
Next, I'd recommend the essays, letters and journalism of George Orwell, in four volumes. They are treasures of clear and courageous writing and political commentary. They'll also provide you with a great veiw of the history of the years from the 1920s to the early 1950s from a writer who is speaking of the times as he lives them. That will provide you with a very valuable perspective on what is going on today in politics from the Left to the Right.
By beginning there, you'll be presented with a treasure of "jumping off points"--- a continuing wealth of ideas of "where to go next"; for, by reading both Russell and Orwell, you'll come into familiarity with the world of other thinkers and writers across the political spectrum about which any well-informed student of political affairs would need and want to know in order to have a very good understanding of our own contemporary politics.
Though himself an avowed liberal, Russell's accounts of conservative political philosophers are scrupulously fair, giving credit to the thinkers and ideas which represent the most valuable contributions of conservative political thought to the history of ideas. If you're in fact politically a conservative, you'll grasp that through Russell's survey of conservatives as well as or even better than by reading many conservative thinkers' own writings before and since his time.
The newsmagazine "The Week" samples opinions from left to right on several issues of the day. It also publishes a column summarizing foreign pundits, "What they think of us".
Look for a book on persuasive writing. I have a college text--somewhere in my disorganized library--which features op-ed articles across the political spectrum and invites the reader to consider the manner of argument (e.g., argues facts, appeals to emotions, asserts author's credibility). I'll post the title when/if it surfaces.
Egad. Not Malkin. She's insane.
I like P.J. O'Rourke. He writes from a libertarian viewpoint, and is hilarious to boot. The late great Molly Ivins is a must.
For an interesting look at the divide between liberal and conservative election politics, try The Two Americas by Stanley Greenberg.
Let's see, other books on my shelf: When Presidents Lie by Eric Alterman; American Theocracy by Kevin Phillips; and What Happened by Scott McClellan.
For some reason, my comment doesn't show up from yesterday. I'll try it again.
#28 - Why is Malkin insane? I ask that as someone who has one of her books, but have not read it yet. I have seen her on TV a few times, but that's about it.
#30: Well, for one, she wrote a book defending the internment of Japanese Americans during WW2. If you see any footage of her in interviews or speeches, she basically comes across as the philippine version of Ann Coulter.
What Lunar said.
For a more balanced (read: not lunatic) conservative viewpoint, try George Will. I still disagree with him, but at least he's not spreading gross distortions and outright lies.
#32 George Will tells as many lies as the rest, he's just more erudite about it. He's a man whose entire life's work is crashing down around his ears. Being wrong is a hard thing to come to grips with.
I remember when National Lampoon did a send up of Newsweek, and the George Will column was "Why I Love the Feudal System."
I think that any time you come up with a theory of the motivations and actions of hundreds of millions that they wouldn't recognize, and would indeed be greatly offended by, you've left the world of description and analysis for one of caricature and invective. If you think you're still in the former, you've left the world of sanity.
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