We’re going to be talking about 2016 for a long, long time. Like, forever. But time doesn’t stop, and history doesn’t end, and 2017’s already got a look about it. Here, then, is a slate of new and recent books fit for the shape of things to come.
In Democracy: A Case Study historian David Moss demonstrates that American democracy has survived and thrived from one generation to the next on the basis not principally of harmony but of conflict—sometimes intense conflict—mediated by shared ideals and a common faith in the nation’s system of democratic self-governance. For Moss, the important question is never whether there is tension in our politics, but rather whether that tension is constructive or destructive. But if those shared ideals erode and that common faith starts to go? Buckle up.
Speaking of Russia, Gregory Carleton lays bare how war is the unifying thread of their national epic. Outsiders view Russia as an aggressor, but in Russia: The Story of War Carleton shows how Russians see themselves as surrounded by enemies, defensively fighting off invader after invader or called upon by history to be the savior of Europe or Christianity or civilization itself, often at immense cost.
From the story of Russia to the notion of the “Muslim World,” the longstanding misconception that 1.5 billion Muslims constitute a single religio-political entity. As Cemil Aydin asks in The Idea of the Muslim World, how did such a mistaken belief arise, why is it so widespread, and how can its grip be loosened so that a more fruitful discussion about politics in Muslim societies can begin?
Misconceptions make the world go round, though, and that of the “Muslim World” has helped make the West go right. For that we’ve got Far-Right Politics in Europe, a critical look at the far right throughout Europe that reveals a prehistory and politics more complex than stereotypes suggest and warns of the challenges posed to the EU’s liberal-democratic order. Jean-Yves Camus and Nicolas Lebourg make clear that these movements are determined to gain power through legitimate electoral means, and that they are succeeding.
The European far right represents a confluence of many ideologies, but nationalism and anti-immigrant fervor are big in the mix. The movement of peoples rouses passions, but many are actually very confused about how to feel about immigration—they are sympathetic to individual immigrants and their reasons for wanting to migrate, but concerned about the overall impact that immigration is having on their society. In Strangers in Our Midst, political theorist David Miller seeks to balance the rights of immigrants with the legitimate concerns of citizens, and defends the right of democratic states to control their borders and decide upon the future size, shape, and cultural make-up of their populations. But those rights don’t mean that just any border regime is fair or acceptable, so Miller also explains what is owed to different categories of immigrant, and what their responsibilities are once admitted.
Debates over immigration are of course often tied to squabbling over the proper role of the state in providing for those within its borders. The increasingly familiar idea of an unconditional basic income is meant to alleviate the pressures mounting on the traditional welfare state, and two world authorities outline the concept in Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy. With trials underway or in the works in Finland, Canada, the Netherlands, France, and even Oakland, basic income seems like an idea whose time has finally come.
Part of the argument for basic income is that it could help to alleviate the economic inequality that characterizes our nations and our world. A couple of years back, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century helped to thrust income inequality into public debate, and now a new volume, After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, is coming to both kick the tires on Piketty’s argument and help steer us towards means of addressing the seemingly intractable problems that he highlights. Edited by Heather Boushey, Brad DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum, the book includes work from Paul Krugman, Robert Solow, Branko Milanovic, Emmanuel Saez, and others, along with a substantial new contribution from Piketty himself.
Here in the U.S., every day brings news of how radically president-elect Trump may shift the nation’s course. Healthcare reform has of course been a pillar of his platform, which makes Miriam Laugesen’s Fixing Medical Prices ever more relevant. Fees charged by physicians in the U.S. are the most expensive in the world, and Laugesen uses the book to introduce readers to a largely unknown group called the Relative Value Scale Update Committee, whose periodic advisory recommendations to Medicare set off chain reactions across the entire health care system. Why would a hugely powerful group carry a name so plain? Because if you’re an interest group stealthily controlling American healthcare policy you’ve every interest in bureaucratic cover.
A few more books for Trump’s America: Sam Abrams’s Education and the Commercial Mindset is a careful study of the benefits and limits of applying market solutions to improving education, a cause to which incoming education secretary Betsy DeVos has devoted her life. Carol Sanger’s About Abortion explores the emotional cost and social consequences of terminating pregnancy in the United States, a subject about which there’s loud and contentious public argument but great silence at more intimate levels; the book connects abortion secrecy to the distorted political conversation that results in this flood of state laws attempting to limit abortion access by increasingly bolder means. Lisa Goff’s Shantytown, USA was written as a history but may yet become a travel guide. And Yascha Mounk’s The Age of Responsibility, which shows how the notion of personal responsibility has become central to our moral vocabulary, political rhetoric, and public policies, aims us towards a more equitable future by forcing us to rethink our mutual responsibilities as citizens.
A lot to think about, a lot to read, and much more to come. Be excellent to each other.