In his major bestseller, Race Matters, philosopher Cornel West burst onto the national scene with his searing analysis of the scars of racism in American democracy. Race Matters has become a contemporary classic, still in print after ten years, having sold more than four hundred thousand copies. A mesmerizing speaker with a host of fervidly devoted fans, West gives as many as one hundred public lectures a year and appears regularly on radio and television. Praised by The New York Times for his "ferocious moral vision" and hailed by Newsweek as "an elegant prophet with attitude," he bridges the gap between black and white opinion about the country's problems.
In Democracy Matters, West returns to the analysis of the arrested development of democracy-both in America and in the crisis-ridden Middle East. In a strikingly original diagnosis, he argues that if America is to become a better steward of democratization around the world, we must first wake up to the long history of imperialist corruption that has plagued our own democracy. Both our failure to foster peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis of Islamist anti-Americanism stem largely from hypocrisies in our dealings with the world. Racism and imperial expansionism have gone hand in hand in our country's inexorable drive toward hegemony, and our current militarism is only the latest expression of that drive. Even as we are shocked by Islamic fundamentalism, our own brand of fundamentalism, which West dubs Constantinian Christianity, has joined forces with imperialist corporate and political elites in an unholy alliance, and four decades after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insidious racism still inflicts debilitating psychic pain on so many of our citizens.
But there is a deep democratic tradition in America of impassioned commitment to the fight against imperialist corruptions-the last great expression of which was the civil rights movement led by Dr. King-and West brings forth the powerful voices of that great democratizing tradition in a brilliant and deeply moving call for the revival of our better democratic nature. His impassioned and provocative argument for the revitalization of America's democracy will reshape the terms of the raging national debate about America's role in today's troubled world.
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n Democracy Matters, Cornel West's follow-up to 1993's Race Matters, the author's diagnosis of the state of modern American democracy is grim. The institution suffers, he says, from what he calls free market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism and escalating authoritarianism, forces that put a stranglehold on efforts to achieve better social and political results on a global scale. These systemic problems exist simultaneous to a pervading sense of nihilism throughout the American corridors of power, West contends, making lawmakers feel that they are inherently virtuous because they are so powerful and accepting a system they know to be unjust, while the press sacrifices truth and insight in pursuit of a sentimental story. Along the way, West makes extensive use of literary and historical parallels, employing Alexis de Tocqueville, Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Toni Morrison and others, with grea! t efficacy for the most part, to illustrate his points. West's prescription calls for a path toward a style of Christianity more in keeping with what he sees as true Christian ideals as well as a greater enfranchisement and understanding of young people and youth culture. West has a lot to say and the vast scope of West's arguments could be construed in at least a couple of ways: either he boldly takes on the enormity inherent to the topic of democracy, or he loses his way and attempts to touch on too wide a swath of topics while rarely going into sufficient detail on any of them. Besides being a provocative author, West is a highly respected professor and Democracy Matters reads something like a university lecture sounds: often insightful, occasionally disjointed, periodically obtuse, and sometimes brilliant. But in the ongoing effort to establish a better democracy, Professor West's perspective is highly instructive. --John MoeAbout the Author:
Cornel West is Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton. The author of the contemporary classic Race Matters, he is a recipient of the American Book Award.
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