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The Next Republic: The Rise of a New Radical Majority, by D. D. Guttenplan.

October 12, 2018

The Next RepublicThe Next Republic: The Rise of a New Radical Majority, by D. D. Guttenplan. Seven Stories Press, October 2018.

4 stars

Political essays about those in the past and present who have worked to return to government of, by, and for the people.

D.D. Guttenplan is a political journalist who has written books, articles, and documentaries.  He has degrees in Philosophy from Columbia University and in English Literature from Cambridge.  His doctorate is in History from the University of London. His articles appear in The Nation, The Guardian, International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times. He has written books about I.F. Stone and about Holocaust denial and conducted an acclaimed documentary with Edward Said.  He covered the 2016 presidential campaign for The Nation.

In addition to clear factual reporting, Guttenplan reaches beyond most political pundits to envision radical changes in how we do politics.  His essays introduce current individuals who are somehow collectively moving out of the stalemate of two parties both of which he sees as devoted to maintaining the unequal status quo.  While Bernie Sanders appears frequently in these essays, the focus is on more local leaders working with labor, fighting the Canadian pipeline, or struggling in Chicago.  What they have in common is that they are truly committed to listening to and empowering local people.  They reject top-down movements who send leaders into areas to gain followers.  Their method is to immerse themselves in local conversations and to let themselves be guided by local knowledge.

This not a new idea.  Guttenplan reveals how local groups in the past have worked this way. Even when they failed to achieve all their goals, they are part of what it means to be an American.  In writing about such individuals and groups, Guttenplan shows deep knowledge of our past, and he also moves beyond what most of us believe to be true.  He does not claim that our traditional accounts, usually featuring two polarized alternatives, are false. Instead, he adds to existing knowledge by giving us more details about what else is going on. For example, when he writes about the Civil War and Reconstruction, he emphasizes the importance of slavery.  Instead of stopping there, he goes on to examine how southern whites insured themselves of power because they had nonvoting slaves as their underclass. He also shows how northerners opposed slavery often primarily to lessen the power of aristocratic slave owners. As I have learned living in east Tennessee, even Civil War did not divide people into two neatly drawn sides.

What we are seeing in primary elections this fall are more and more examples of the pattern that Guttenplan identifies.  Women and other outsiders are getting elected on local issues which often reach across party lines.  If you look at Guttenplan’s recent articles, you see he is following this development.  In this book, he identifies past and present patterns so that we can gain inspiration and wisdom from others. In doing so, he offers hope beyond the two party system that has failed us as a nation.  Perhaps we need to stop assuming that the two party system is inevitable and good.

Everyone out there needs to read and think about this book—and to vote in November.

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