Virtuous America?

While I was reading Vidal's Inventing a Nation, I also picked up an interesting book by Claes G. Ryn, America the Virtuous: THe Crisis of Democracy and the Quest for Empire (Transaction, 2003). I have a hunch that if I knew better, I would see that there's something of Voeglin behind this, but that's a vague guess right now. At the very least, Ryn seems more comfortable with Adams' vision of America.

Just two quick pieces of interest:

(1) Ryn helpfully reminds us that a commitment to "democracy" can be expressed in quite different forms, and does not require the propogation of "plebiscitary" democracy that we get from the neocons. The problem with that version of democracy, he says, is that it "does not entertain any deep-seated suspicions regarding the popular desires of the moment" (p. 52). For some reason, this reminded me of Vidal's extolling of a more Jeffersonian Republicanism as checks and balances on the "will of the people." But I might be getting this all confused. (Hey, I'm only a Canadian!)

(2) Ryn describes the neocons of the PNAC-variety as "the new Jacobins." This provides an interesting historical analogue that repays further consideration.

The White House, Political Fundamentalism, and the "Echoing" Press

In the treasures of the new arrivals shelf at the GRPL I found another little gem I've been trying to digest: David Domke's God Willing? Political Fundamentalism in the White House, the "War on Terror," and the Echoing Press (Pluto Press, 2004). Domke, a communications scholar at the University of Washington, undertakes a systematic, quantitative analysis of Bush rhetoric since September 11, with a special focus on the way the current administration has "converted" political agendas into religious missions through a very intentional lexicon. The result is what Domke calls a "worldview" (and he seriously engages relevant literature on the notion of worldview, including Naugle, and others in the Reformational tradition); more specifically, he labels the worldview "political fundamentalism"--which, I think, is a rough equivalent of what we often call "Constantinianism."

[It is interesting that Domke notes: "It is unfortunately the case that there will be a desire by some to dismiss this book as the product of an anti-religious, anti-conservative mindset. The reality couldn't be further from the truth. My worldview, and that of a number of the individuals who assisted me on this project or offered insightful suggestions, has been and continues to be substantially shaped by the Christian faith" (p. xi).]

This internal critique of White House rhetoric is only part of the book; the other major piece of the research looks at the way that the mainstream media--and not just Fox News, but also the networks and major newspapers--uncritically bought into this rhetoric. Thus, despite, say, the NYT's persistent critique of Bush, their adoption of the same lexicon to describe the "war on terror" actually mitigates their ability to engage in critique.

This is an important book and repays careful attention (why aren't communications scholars at my college talking about this book?--well, I think I know why...). But it's now overdue, so this is a note to self to check this out again later.