As mentioned in my previous review for Chris Hayes’s Twilight of the Elites, I have enjoyed some ample free time in between classes, on weekends, etc. getting some reading done.
So I took the time right after Twilight of the Elites to read through MSNBC contributer EJ Dionne’s latest release Our Divided Political Heart. First off if there is any other book that compliments Twilight of the Elites perfectly it is this one. While somewhat different in scope (Hayes looks at the meritocratic format in American society while Dionne takes us through a quick look at America’s divided political history), it’s a great history lesson for all who read.
Dionne begins his book by explaining a few tenets in the American political system such as democratic (small-d), republican (small-r), individualism and communitarianism and how both sides of the aisle have sort of flip-flopped their way through history. Dionne makes an excellent case at saying how conservatism has, for so long, been synonymous with religion and community (i.e. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”) and how the Tea Party protests of 2009-10 have abandoned the communitarian view for one based off individualism.
Another item that gets discussed is the view of the United States Constitution and the poorly discussed opinions based on what the Founding Fathers actually think. Dionne is absolutely correct in stating that the Founding Fathers weren’t some mystical, pseudo-religious people who created this grand miracle by compromising with each other. Conservatives/originalists such as Antonin Scalia have made the mistake of assuming what the Founding Fathers actually meant in their document.
Dionne makes the cases that the Founding Fathers, while not statists in any sense of the word, created the Constitution so the government could exist. Plenty of conjecture has arisen (mostly from the political right) that the Founders were almost anti-government in their views but signees such as Alexander Hamilton actually advocated for a federal government that was much stronger than any state’s. Hamilton was a visionary, sensing a country that would have to evolve from an economy that was almost entirely based in agrarian resources to one that would center on manufacturing. Yes, Hamilton was “pro-business” but he wasn’t (along with several other Founders), anti-government.
But make no mistake about it, while Dionne is identified as a political liberal, he does extend some constructive criticism towards Democrats and progressives. Dionne highlights the political success of Bill Clinton, and to a lesser extent Barack Obama, as one that shouldn’t be blatantly ignored by future Democrats. Clinton, Dionne states, made inroads by appealing to the community and talking about his faith. While Dionne is certainly not preaching or mandating that liberals start talking about their religion; he is stating that there is a void between modern-day liberalism and middle America that should not be ignored.
While Democrats might be more “communitarian” than “individualistic”, they have yet to do a grand job at discussing the role community can play in transforming a society. As a progressive that (as of this writing) identifies as an agnostic, I can see what happens when a liberal discusses their faith in public. Sometimes it’s met with eye-rolling or snickering. Other times politicians who aren’t overtly religious will describe how their church was a hotbed for their community and helped them grow as individuals.
I’m certainly not advocating that the religious left take over the Democratic Party, but by at least identifying with a proud sense of community; the Democrats could make inroads in places that they aren’t seen as favorable. But that’s why we are divided.
Our Divided Political Heart may not have been as heavily hyped as Twilight of the Elites or Drift by Rachel Maddow (both excellent books), but it deserves a read and your attention. At under 300 pages, it’s not a long read but one that gets to the bare bones of discussion without simply skimming history. Dionne does a great job at succinctly giving a history lesson while also drawing parallels to the current day and age. This is a book that is equally enjoyable yet constructive and I would suggest this to anyone who has any interest in history, politics and even society.
Give it a read at your local library or book store.
FINAL REVIEW: 4/5