A Boston College political science professor and the author of of One Nation, After All argues that Americans are mired in an age of political immaturity, one not grounded in any one ideology but rather in a failure to value character of would-be leaders, to accept the complexity of government and society, and to remain skeptical without being suspicious.
Wolfe is at his best when he is discussing these writers, first-class thinkers who responded powerfully to their era’s challenges ... Certainly, there are reasons this era is different, but blaming a lack of intellectual heft both overemphasizes the importance of intellectuals and largely dismisses a pretty impressive collection of present-day thinkers ... He also does not give enough emphasis to other conditions: the rise of partisanship extending even to the courts, the importance of tribal media in a new communications age, the obliteration of campaign finance rules that had put some limits on the power of the oligarchic class. Focused as he is on ideas, Wolfe does not end with a series of reforms to reverse our decline. Instead, he offers advice to his readers: Don’t be petulant, appreciate the nobility of politics, trust experts, avoid conspiracy theorizing, don’t believe candidates who promise only good news, pay attention to political debates, be sensitive to norms and not just laws. All good ideas, but Wolfe has no road map or magic wand to get most Americans to buy into them.
Some modern readers may have difficulty following the frequent references to midcentury intellectuals such as Lionel Trilling and Reinhold Niebuhr. Wolfe reminds readers to treat every vote as if the future of democracy depends on it—because it does. He also offers sage advice ... This review of how we, as citizens, created the current political state with immature political leadership in the context of midcentury intellectual thought will mainly interest readers of political theory and those seeking a deeper understanding of the current political climate.
A withering broadside against the immaturity that infests American politics, revealing itself in populism and demagoguery. Both the left and the right take it on the chin in this tough-minded analysis ... Though his book is very much about the collective childishness of American political discourse, the title is somewhat misleading. It is not just petulance that infects our politics, but also a plague of misguided populism and demagoguery that feeds on ignorance, fear, and a persistent current of racism. While some readers may question the author’s conviction that politics is one of the noblest of human enterprises...his contention that we do not take our political responsibilities seriously enough is inarguable ... Though Wolfe sometimes wants to have it both ways and may be too trusting of the motives of elites, this is a persuasive and alarming book.