... sweeping but insightful ... Caldwell’s analysis of our Vietnam legacy is particularly masterful but the book brims with brisk evaluations of how a confident nation became an argumentative, fragmented one ... Perhaps because he was writing as his book’s natural finale crashed into the arena – Donald Trump’s election – Caldwell is less sure-footed in a grand conclusion. What does all this mean? Where are we? Where do we go to reconnect with our better angels? ... Caldwell offers the best analysis and theory yet as to how we perhaps unwittingly arrived at a place where we would elect a president bent on unraveling our institutions, assumptions and beliefs about ourselves and where we no longer even start with a set of accepted facts about anything.
... provocative and well-argued ... Christopher Caldwell may be on the receiving end of the slings and arrows of the liberal governmental and cultural elite he scorns in this book. He may be called a 'bigot' or a 'white nationalist' or worse. Or, hopefully, his erudite arguments will be debated, analyzed and discussed on their merits without rancor or venom.
Caldwell warrants attention. He is one of the right’s most gifted and astute journalists, noted especially for his thoughtful writings on Europe ... provocative and pessimistic ... If you think Caldwell sounds like Bannon, the self-appointed tribune of Trumpian working-class populism, you’re right. But the conservative critique of Davos Man has a lot to say that deserves a hearing ... Perhaps the author should have come up for oxygen when he found himself suggesting that the Southern segregationists were right all along. Reading this overwrought and strangely airless book, one would never imagine a different way of viewing things ... Perhaps most depressingly, Caldwell’s account, even if one accepts its cramped view of the Constitution and its one-eyed moral bookkeeping, leads nowhere. It proffers no constructive alternative, no plausible policy or path. The author knows perfectly well that there will be no 'repeal of the civil rights laws.' He foresees only endless, grinding, negative-sum cultural and political warfare between two intractably opposed 'constitutions.' His vision is a dead end. Unfortunately, it also seems to be where American conservatism is going.
With facile writing and impressive research, Caldwell examines his premise in detail, hitting the era’s hot-button issues: abortion, affirmative action, busing, Robert Bork, Gloria Steinem, women’s rights, and gay marriage ... As a conservative, white, male graduate of Harvard, Caldwell writes to the right, occasionally to the left, and sometimes swerves center as he cites lawsuit after lawsuit to make his points, one of which actually suggests that maybe Southern segregationists were correct all along ... His book, which relies on much of the conservative journalism he’s published...reads like the lamentation of an anguished man who sees his world slowly crumbling beneath him ... What Caldwell grieves, progressives might celebrate, even the messiness of change and the discomfort of adjustment. He rails against political correctness, considers it an affront to have to call black people African Americans, and resents the federal holiday dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr ... While much of this provocative book — with its conservative critique of the last 55 years in America — is interesting, it never rises above the author’s anger or overcomes his fury with the people of color, women, and gays who’ve challenged the system and won the changes that have rattled Caldwell’s world. He vents his spleen at a society that is not standing still and remaining soldered to tradition, but, in his view, is descending into chaos and leaving white men grasping the shreds of what once was.
As a work of history, the book suffers critical flaws. Most important, it operates on an ahistorical premise ... Only a long-debunked caricature of pre-1960s history in which 'Americans understood themselves as they always had—as essentially a European country, displaced westward' could support the contrast Caldwell on which hinges his argument ... Caldwell’s own evidence fails to prove the case ... Rather than build an empirical case, he relies on choice quotes from contemporary commentators, selective surveys and Google searches of the frequency of certain terms to discern what 'the majority' believed. If the book comes up short as history, it performs a valuable service as an articulation of white grievance politics ... Caldwell excels at drawing large conclusions from small moments, and readers will find many examples of topics and hypocrisies that white people might object to ... Yet he provides no real evidence for the motivations of Trump supporters ... he argues through implication and rhetorical questions that reveal far more about his own concerns than those of the nonelite whites with whom Caldwell (Harvard College Class of 1983) sympathizes ... the real sense of entitlement comes from the people Caldwell valorizes yet leaves relatively voiceless: those who confuse human decency and empathy with liberal elitism, and who insist that those pursuing justice really have nothing to complain about.
It hardly needs saying that Mr. Caldwell is an original and often engaging thinker. Readers of his journalism will recognize here a familiar clarity of style and forcefulness of phrasing. Sometimes he skewers antagonists with almost painful precision ... Yet for all the barbed wit on display, The Age of Entitlement is a book suffused with anger—at the system, at the movement of history. For Mr. Caldwell, the process of change has often been painful and induces sadness ... Still, we might reasonably demand a bit more from a writer of Mr. Caldwell’s distinction. It’s curious that a book subtitled America Since the Sixties doesn’t actually have much history in it. There is a vast literature both academic and commercial on this period, written from a wide variety of perspectives; and documents and oral histories are available in major libraries. Not much of this material finds its way into The Age of Entitlement ... Even the most intriguing argument can be left looking a little spare if it exists in a historical vacuum ... There is also some puzzlement about where the book ends. One doesn’t need to agree with Mr. Caldwell’s critique of President Obama to recognize it as a tour de force of rhetorical portraiture ... Mr. Caldwell ends in 2015. Such an unlikely truncation may leave readers feeling short-changed and perplexed ... raises important questions not just about the future of the republic but about Western society more generally.
... [a] stimulating and contrarian rethink of modern politics ... Caldwell’s thesis is provocative, but not partisan—he blames the Reagan administration for entrenching both the civil rights regime and a plutocracy of financial elites—and shrewd in analyzing Americans’ conflicted attitudes toward progressive initiatives. Liberals will find much to dispute, but Caldwell delivers the sharpest and most insightful conservative critique of mainstream politics in years.