TAC Bookshelf for the Week of October 8
Daniel Kishi, associate editor: John B. Judis, editor-at-large at Talking Points Memo, is the rare left-of-center journalist who takes our populist-nationalist moment seriously. Rather than dismiss the leaders and constituencies of the American and European movements as mere xenophobes, he offers an empathetic balls-and-strikes analysis of the socioeconomic factors that made—and continue to make—such campaigns viable.
His first effort, The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics, was published a month before the 2016 presidential election when pundits and polling all but presumed a landslide victory for Hillary Clinton. The unexpected triumph of Donald Trump made it a commercial success and a go-to guide for those seeking to understand what happened. It also prompted Judis’s publisher, Columbia Global Reports, to give him a second book deal. Due out in early October, The Nationalist Revival: Trade, Immigration, and the Revolt Against Globalization serves as a nice companion.
In it, Judis argues that nationalism is not simply a political ideology—it’s an inescapable social psychology. Based on the assumption that people within a nation must share a common identity, he believes that a nationalist sentiment is an essential ingredient of democracy. “Nationalism,” Judis writes, “provides a framework—often unacknowledged, for our politics, expressed most clearly in the question of whether a policy is in the national interest.”
Throughout the book Judis documents the subordination of national sovereignty to international rule; details the unfulfilled promises of regional and international organizations that no longer seem to serve the “national interest”; and traces the rise of nationalist movements as a “logical” reaction to the excesses and failures of the liberal international order.
Although ultimately critical of Donald Trump, Judis shows a great deal of sympathy for the three-legged stool of Trumpism: economic nationalism, immigration restrictionism, and foreign policy realism and restraint. Whatever differences one might have with Judis’s politics and programs, readers of The American Conservative will find his analysis interesting.
For those interested in left-of-center defenses of nationalism and sovereignty, I recommend the writings of Thomas Fazi. He has written a left-wing defense of national sovereignty for American Affairs, and has defended Brexit and written critically of the eurozone in the pages of Jacobin. He is also the co-author of Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World.
Gracy Olmstead, contributing editor: I’ve been reading Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh. I can already tell this will be one of my favorite books of the year. Smarsh’s writing is beautiful, poignant, gut-wrenching at times. She profoundly captures the trials and beauties of rural life, as well as the tragedy of poverty in America.
I’ve also been reading Localism in a Mass Age, edited by Mark T. Mitchell and Jason Peters. I’ve just reviewed this book for TAC, and highly recommend it to any who are interested in the principle ideas undergirding localism. The essays in this volume cover a variety of topics, including education, urbanism, municipal government, and philosophy. My favorite essay is by Susannah Black, who considers the legacy of the port city throughout history, as well as her own adventures as a deckhand in New York City.