What I’ve Been Reading


Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War by Eric Foner

This is an excellent history that examines in detail the formation of the Republican Party in the 1850s. I hope to write something longer about it, but a couple quick thoughts. It was very interesting reading this after Democracy for Realists, and keeping in my mind all the lessons from that book. One of the unanswered questions in Democracy for Realists was just how political coalitions form; Foner’s book is a history of just such an event. Another thing I found fascinating was how, despite 150 years of history, the nature of the Democratic and Republican coalitions were…not that different, at least in the North. The powerbase of Democrats was in large cities, particularly among immigrants. Those who were most supportive of Republicans were in more rural areas and tended to be business owners. For years I’ve had a mental model where the policies and makeup of the parties have undergone random drift over time. But now it seems that the coalitions have been much more enduring in some senses. Given that Democracy for Realists emphasizes the tribal aspect of party membership, this maybe isn’t so surprising.

A Colony in a Nation by Chris Hayes

This book is very good; in fact I can’t recommend it highly enough. I really enjoyed his first book, Twilight of the Elites, which came out in 2011 and has proved extremely prescient regarding the political situation in the United States. There’s reason to be skeptical of a book from a white liberal television pundit about race relations, but Hayes is very self aware; one thing I’ve always liked about him is that is tries to be very understanding and respectful of others’ views. The remarkable thing for me about this book is that it is able to speak to those who are skeptical of the Black Lives Matter movement, while also having interesting things to say to supporters as well.

Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus by Rick Perlstein

A very entertaining bit of narrative history about the 1964 presidential campaign. I’m struck by the parallels between the Trump and Goldwater movements. This is also a book I hope to write more on later; in the meantime, just watch this campaign ad and tell me you couldn’t have just aired it in 2016 unchanged (excepting the Vote for Johnson at the end):


The New Class Divide: Makes the point that in the industrial era, class conflict was about exploited workers; now with the growing information economy, class conflict will be about ignored workers. Can liberal democracy survive in such an environment?

Why every smart liberal should read conservative philosopher Peter Lawler: Lawler recently passed away; I wasn’t familiar with him before, but a number of people I read noted his passing and so I checked out some of his stuff, like his last essay. I like it, and plan on reading more.

The ‘Right’ to Health Care is the Wrong Question: Ramesh Ponnuru aruges that in the health care debate, liberal and conservatives are largely talking past each other; everybody agrees about the need to provide health care, and the disagreement is about the method. I think he is too forgiving of particular factions of the Republican Party; while the ‘Reformicon’ wing that Ponnuru is part of is more sensible in these matters, it really seems that there are strong elements in the party that don’t believe this. But I can accept that perhaps my partisan brain is being too uncharitable.


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