Gideon's Blog

In direct contravention of my wife's explicit instructions, herewith I inaugurate my first blog. Long may it prosper.

For some reason, I think I have something to say to you. You think you have something to say to me? Email me at: gideonsblogger -at- yahoo -dot- com

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Monday, February 16, 2004
Apologies for being away. Things have been very busy at work, and now I'm off on a business trip. Planning to do reviews, though, of two books I recently read (or, in the former case, re-read): Ulysses, by James Joyce, and The Future of Freedom, by Fareed Zakaria. The former was wonderful, and the things I admire about it now are very different from those I was enthralled by ten years ago when I first opened the book (in fact, many of the things I most admired then I don't like much at all now). The latter was a big disappointment. I remember Robert Kagan wrote a scathing review of the book in The New Republic - indeed, that review was a major reason I had for wanting to read the book, to see if I thought Kagan was right. Well, to too great a degree he was. Before reading the book, I was inclined to agree with Zakaria's thesis - that democratization where there is no existing liberal, constitutional culture is dangerous, and may even be counterproductive - but by the time I'd finished it I was less inclined to agree with him than I had been going in. The biggest problem with the book is that it defines its categories - liberal autocracy, illiberal democracy - in such a way as to define away any substantial objections to the thesis. The second biggest problem is that whenever he senses that the reader might object to something he says, he hedges, with the result that Zakaria can always object indignantly to a reviewer like Kagan attacking him in a broadside fashion. I think that's cheap, frankly. But, while less significant than these macro problems, the thing that probably annoyed me the most was sloppy writing and research. Small example: Zakaria thinks President Bush is a Baptist, when in fact he's a Methodist. This would seem to be a minor point . . . except that the fact comes out in a whole sub-chapter devoted to the rise of Southern Baptism and Pentecostalism. That's the sort of thing that makes one doubt the author's veracity generally. It gave me the feeling that the book was written in haste and not particularly well thought-through. Anyhow, more on this topic later.