Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The End of America, The Book Review

I referenced the book The End of America a few weeks ago in a letter to the NYTimes that I posted here at WDNC. As I said at that time, there is much more to be said about this book. Author Naomi Wolf has been doing the talk show circuit and also posting essays at Huffington Post and Daily Kos. I have a collection of those links coming soon. Below is the book review I wrote in the new issue of the Journal (it is not yet online but I'll post an update with the link when it is available).


"The End of America:
Letter of Warning To a Young Patriot
by Naomi Wolf

North Coast Journal Book Review
By Dave Berman

World renowned feminist and best-selling author of the landmark "The Beauty Myth," Naomi Wolf is back with "The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot," a brief 155-page look at the historical patterns found in all dictatorial regimes. Extensively footnoted, this book draws out astounding parallels between Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Pinochet and more. Laid against the backdrop of 21st century America, Wolf shows those currently in power have followed the playbook closely.

Wolf refers to "historical echoes" when describing such recurrent totalitarian manifestations as secret prisons, mercenary or paramilitary forces, surveillance of ordinary citizens and infiltration of their organizations, restrictions on the press, and speech in general, arbitrary detainment and release of citizens, evocation of a constant internal and external threat, allegations of espionage and treason at critics and dissenters, and subverting the rule of law.

This book is very much the warning the subtitle promises. The introduction of such authoritarian practices typically occurs gradually, and in a similar sequence. Wolf calls this the "fascist shift" and describes tell-tale signs that an open democratic society is being closed down. In other words, you know your government's gone fascist when...

Many in Humboldt know we're already there. "The End of America" provides great context for helping evolve the thinking of un-like-minded neighbors. Thomas Paine, author of the seminal American revolutionary pamphlet Common Sense, wrote that not everyone will recognize the need for revolution simultaneously. There have to be people who get it first and then help others to see. For those who already understand, Wolf offers compelling if not exhaustive material ideal for reframing understanding of the changes our country has undertaken, in our name and without our consent.

For the folks at the other end of the spectrum, the ones who think this premise is exaggerated and inapplicable to present-day America, there is precedent for this. Another echo Wolf traces is the intentionally blurred definition of truth and reality. Fascist governments work hard at perception management, influencing or controlling media, propagandizing, adopting laws that do the opposite what they purport to do. This is never expected to create uniform belief but to disorient and confuse, divisively inhibiting resistance.

What Wolf offers the doubters is a calm and rational assessment of well researched facts and anecdotes, with sources for confirmation. The book is a warning and Wolf's concern comes through genuine and true without being shrill or off-putting to readers perhaps still struggling to admit the extent of America's fascist shift. The hope she conveys is that it is not too late and Americans can come together to restore the Constitution, the rule of law, and the freedoms and liberties envisioned by the Founders.


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