New Books in Politics
Summary: Discussions with Scholars of Politics about their New Books
[Cross-posted from New Books in Journalism] The new book, Constructing Neoliberalism: Economic Transformation in Anglo-American Democracies (University of Toronto Press, 2013) shows how political elites in Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Canada successfully introduced radically new economic policies in the 1980s. While opinion polls have consistently showed that neoliberal policies are not popular, governments in all four countries have continued implementing an agenda that includes government spending cuts, the privatization of state-owned enterprises and free trade. The book’s author, Jonathan Swarts, Associate Professor of Political Science at Purdue University North Central in northwestern Indiana, says he finds it fascinating how governments of all political stripes in the four Anglo-American democracies have adopted neoliberalism, which he calls a new “political-economic imaginary.” In this interview with the New Books Network, Professor Swarts discusses how political leaders in the four Anglo-American democracies brought about the neoliberal economic transformation using a combination of persuasion and coercion.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Science, Technology, and Society] Why do we study the history of science? Historians of science don’t just teach us about the past: along with philosophers of science, they also help us to understand the foundations and assumptions of scientific research, and guide us to reliable sources of information on which to base our policies and opinions. Jane Maienschein’s new book is a model of the kind of careful, balanced, and beautifully written history of science that makes a significant contribution not just to the historiography of science, but also to the public understanding of science and its lived consequences. Embryos Under the Microscope: The Diverging Meanings of Life (Harvard University Press, 2014) traces the historical transformations in the observation and observability of the earliest stages of developing life. Maienschein’s account is a focused and thoughtfully organized book that gradually reveals aspects of the history of early stages of life, carefully curating the elements of her narrative such that they collectively inform broader debates over embryo-related policy in the contemporary United States. Readers follow animal and human embryos in their metamorphoses from hypothetical to observed entities, seeing them sequentially transform into experimental, computational, and engineered objects. The final chapter considers the implications of the story in light of recent debates on topics such as fetal pain, paying special attention to the distinction between making policy decisions based on metaphysics vs. science. Embryos Under the Microscope is equally well-suited to academic historians of science wanting a clear introduction to the history of developmental biology, general readers seeking an introduction to a crucial topic of social and political debate, and teachers interested in assigning one or more of the chapters in relevant undergraduate courses. Enjoy! You can find the related Embryo Project Encyclopedia, a wonderful digital and open access resource, here.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Law] The constitution guarantees Americans freedom of religious practice and freedom from government interference in the same same. But what does religious liberty mean in practice? Does it mean that the government must permit any religious practice, even one that’s nominally illegal? Clearly not. You can’t shoot someone even if God tells you to. Does it mean, then, that religious liberty is a sort of fiction and that the government can actually closely circumscribe religious practice? Clearly not. The government can’t ban a putatively religious practice just because it’s expedient to do so. So where’s the line? In God vs. the Gavel: Religion and the Rule of Law (Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 2014), Marci A. Hamilton argues that it’s shifting rapidly. Traditionally, the government, congress, and courts agreed that though Americans should enjoy extensive religious freedom, that freedom did not include license to do anything the religious might like. A sensible accommodation between church and state had to be made so that both the church and state could do their important work. According to Hamilton, in recent decades radical religious reformers have mounted a successful campaign to throw the idea of a sensible accommodation out the window. They have expanded the scope of religious liberty and thereby limited the ability of the government to protect citizens generally. In this sense, she says, religion–a force for great social good, in her mind–has been made into an instrument of harm for many Americans. Listen in.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Political Science] Hans Noel is the author of Political Ideologies and Political Parties in America (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Noel is an assistant professor of government at Georgetown University. He is also the co-author of The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform. To most casual observers of politics ideology and party affiliation are synonymous. Noel argues that, while that may largely be the case today, it wasn’t always so. He employs a novel method to trace the articulation of ideology over the 19th and 20th centuries, to explore the way liberalism and conservatism evolved. He writes: “The clear pattern is that in the 19th century, ideology was not unidimensional, but it became increasingly so over the 20th century.”
[Cross-posted from New Books in Critical Theory] In his new book, The Limits of Neo-Liberalism: Authority, Sovereignty, and the Logic of Competition (Sage, 2014), William Davies, from Goldsmiths College, University of London presents a detailed and challenging account of the dominant ideology of our age. The book’s five chapters chart the emergence of neo-liberalism within economics and political philosophy, through the international networks that were influential in propagating the ideas, to finally demonstrate, via the use of fieldwork in the US and Europe, how neo-liberalism exists in practice. The book is keen to move beyond the use of neo-liberalism as a mere description of events or practices that are disliked by parts of contemporary global political discourse. Neoliberalism, for Davies, is the pursuit of the disenchantment of politics by economics. The book shows how this plays out from the initial work of key neo-liberal thinkers, such as Hayek, to more recent defenses of neo-liberal approaches by governments, management theorists and think tanks in the post-crash era. Finally the book offers a reflection on the nature of contemporary critical sociology. Drawing on the work of Luc Boltanski, the French pragmatist sociologist, The Limits of Neo-Liberalism, shows the importance of description and history in setting out the structure of our current global settlement in order to challenge it.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Political Science] John Hudak is the author of Presidential Pork: White House Influence over the Distribution of Federal Grants (Brookings Institute Press 2014). Hudak is a fellow in Governance Studies at Brookings Institution. He earned his Ph.D. in political science from Vanderbilt University. Hudak analyzes the often understudied side of presidential power: the power to disburse money through grants and contracts. He argues that president’s use this power in similar ways to legislators, advancing electoral and other political interests in key states. The book uses novel data and makes a compelling argument for electoral reforms.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Political Science] Brett Scott is the author of The Heretic’s Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money (Pluto Press, 2013). Scott is a journalist, urban deep ecologist, and Fellow at the Finance Innovation Lab. While much of Scott’s book focuses on explaining various aspects of the financial services section, the heart of the book is a call to action. Scott infuses this call with a variety of first-hand experiences as a campaigner for radical approaches to disrupt the sector. For this reason, the book acts as a guide to activism, applicable for those interested in global finance, but also other domains that are ripe for criticism. His blog that he mentions at the end of the podcast can be found here.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Political Science] Dede Feldman is the author of Inside the New Mexico Senate: Boots, Suits, and Citizens (University of New Mexico Press, 2014). Feldman retired from the New Mexico Senate in 2012 and is a former journalist and now is a political commentator in Albuquerque. Feldman provides a first-hand account of the state legislative process. Her colorful stories of many legends of New Mexico politics reveal the complexity of a part-time legislature. She ends the book with an array of ideas to reform the institution and limit some of the forces she sees as destructive and harmful. The book would make an excellent addition to an undergraduate course in State and Local Government.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Big Ideas] Americans are very politically divided. Democrats say we need a more powerful welfare state while Republicans say we need to maintain the free market. The struggle, we are constantly informed, is one of ideas. And that it is in the worst possible sense, for neither the Democrats nor Republicans seem interested in evidence. They don’t want the facts to get in the way of their arguments. In his remarkable book The Political Economy of Human Happiness: How Voters’ Choices Determine the Quality of Life (Cambridge University Press, 2013), Benjamin Radcliff provides facts that should help both Democrats and Republicans, despite their many differences, decide how to proceed. He asks a simple, compelling question: do conservative or liberal public policies make people happier? After an extensive and sophisticated analysis of the data, he reaches an equally simple, compelling answer: liberal policies do. Radcliff is a great friend of the free market; it is obvious, he says, that capitalism is the best economic system we have at our disposal. But he is also pragmatic: all the evidence shows that free markets alone don’t make people as happy as markets combined with robust welfare and labor-protection programs. There is a lesson here for both Democrats and Republicans. Listen up.
[Cross-posted from New Books in History] It seems that everyone in Hollywood is on the political Left. “Seems” is the operative word here, because there are actually Republicans in pictures, at least according to this website. (NB: I have no idea whether the folks who created this list know what they’re talking about, so beware.) Nonetheless, it’s pretty certain that most–the vast majority?– of Hollywood-types are on the Left. But it wasn’t always so, as Donald T. Critchlow shows in his fascinating book When Hollywood Was Right: How Movie Stars, Studio Moguls, and Big Business Remade American Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2013). There was a time–the 1940s and 1950s–when Conservatives were an important and very vocal faction in Hollywood. This group emerged out of opposition to the New Deal and found their issue in anti-Communism. They were, truth be told, never terribly numerous. But they made up for their small numbers by their political savvy and, ultimately, their ability to produce skillful, viable political candidates. One of them, of course, was Ronald Reagan, who proved to be very skillful and very viable indeed. It’s a remarkable and largely forgotten story. Listen in. This interview is brought to you by Cambridge University Press.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Technology] Digital Communications Technologies, or DCTs, like the Internet offer the infrastructure and means of forming a networked society. These technologies, now, are a mainstay of political campaigns on every level, from city, to state, to congressional, and, of course, presidential. In her new book, Presidential Campaigning in the Internet Age (Oxford University Press, 2014), Jennifer Stromer-Galley, an associate professor in the iSchool at Syracuse University, discusses the impact of DCTs on presidential campaigning. In particular, Stromer-Galley takes a historical look at the past five presidential campaigns and the use of the Internet by incumbents and challengers to win the election. The promise of DCTs with respect to political campaigning was greater citizen participation in the democratic process. Stromer-Galley analyzes whether DCTs have lived up to this promise, or if the idea of the Internet promoting great political engagement is merely a myth.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Political Science] Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes are the co-authors of authors of HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton (Crown Publishers 2014). Allen is White House bureau chief at Bloomberg; Parnes is White House correspondent for The Hill. This is a big, buzzy book that has gotten a lot of media attention. Much of the book is about how important trust is to Hillary Clinton. Allen and Parnes refer to the “concentric circles of trust” that dominate the political decisions made by the Clintons. They also write that Hillary Clinton has a “bias for action” that compels her to focus on doing rather than debating. One of the most interesting parts of the book is about how Secretary Clinton embraced technology and relied on staff to integrate technology into diplomacy innovative ways.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Biography] In America, biographies of Presidents and First Ladies are a staple of the genre, but the relationship that exists between the two receives surprisingly less exploration, as though the biographies needed to be kept as separate as the offices in the East and West Wings. (The relationship of the Clintons being the notable exception.) Hopefully Will Swift‘s Pat and Dick: The Nixons, an Intimate Portrait of a Marriage (Threshold Editions, 2014)) augurs a new biographical trend towards serious examination of presidential relationships. It’s a daunting task- to not only humanize but probe the relationship that existed between a pair still, fifty years on, more easily reduced to the stereotypes of ‘Tricky Dick’ and ‘Plastic Pat’- but Swift gives a welcome corrective, portraying a surprisingly vulnerable Nixon whilst, perhaps even more importantly, providing a historically significant re-evaluation of his wife. For, of all the recent First Ladies, it’s Pat Nixon’s accomplishments that have been most overlooked, obscured as they were by a frosty public image and the downfall of her husband. In the public imagination, First Ladies are easily associated with social issues (Lady Bird Johnson and the environment, Michelle Obama and healthy eating, etc.), and yet Pat Nixon’s issue of ’volunteerism’- both important and, perhaps, overly broad and, therefore, more difficult to quantify- seems to have fallen from historical view. As Swift demonstrates, however, her volunteerism platform was a springboard in improving American international relations. When, after the Peruvian earthquake of May 1970, Pat Nixon made a harrowing journey into the heart of Peru, to an area then called ‘The Valley of Death’, where she assisted and comforted survivors. ‘To have President Nixon send his wife here means more to me than if he had sent the whole American Air Force,’ said Peruvian President Velasco Alvarado. It’s a story that reveals the impact a First Lady can have, an impact that all to often goes unacknowledged, and an impact in whose preservation biography plays a key role.
[Cross-post from New Books in Political Science] John Hibbing, Kevin Smith, and John Alford are the authors of Predisposed: Liberals, Conservatives, and the Biology of Political Differences (Routledge, 2013). Hibbing is professor of political science and psychology at the University of Nebraska, Smith is professor of political science at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Alford is associate professor of political science at Rice University. Predisposed approaches the difference between liberals and conservatives from the perspective of physiology. Are we predisposed to certain beliefs or to one ideology or another? They answer emphatically “yes”. Those that call themselves liberals and conservative are biologically different in a host of ways that are deeply embedded in our biology.
[Cross-posted from New Books in Latin American Studies] New Mexico is a cultural borderland, marked by the interaction of Indian, Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo-American peoples over the past four hundred years. The question of how to commemorate this history and promote the traditions that arose from it is the subject of ongoing discussing, disagreement, and activism. In Recognizing Heritage: the Politics of Multiculturalism in New Mexico (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), Thomas H. Guthrie examines the work of scholars, community activists, politicians, and federal officials at several sites in Northern New Mexico – work meant to preserve the region’s Indian and Hispanic heritage and the state’s “multicultural” character, exemplified by the 2008 creation of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area across the region. Recognizing Heritage offers a robust critique of the multicultural model at work in New Mexico. While Guthrie notes that both Anglo-Americans and Indian or Hispanic activists are well-meaning in their efforts to make Indian and Hispanic culture more visible, he argues that their tendency to frame these cultures within the past, in terms of “heritage,” are socially and politically counterproductive. The emphasis of the “authenticity” of Indian craftsmanship, or the reduction of Hispanic history to the legacy of the Spanish Empire, erases the current diversity and changing nature of Indian and Hispanic lifestyles and identities. The focus on Indian and Hispanic heritage also hides the historically and culturally specific place of Anglo-Americans in New Mexico, including the ongoing effects of American colonization. Guthrie suggests that the advocates of multiculturalism, including anthropologists such as himself, must integrate present social and political realities into their discussion of heritage, a change that would further the goal of justice and real cultural equality in New Mexico.