End of America, The
by Naomi Wolf
A good book for a beginning liberal, but ultimately this book is long on problems and short on solutions. I mostly agreed with Wolf throughout, but lost patience with her arguments after awhile, anxious for solutions that never came. I probably should have known better just by looking at the conclusion, “A Patriot’s Task,” which is a whopping two pages long.
Wolf presented a lot of valuable information, and a lot of the book works well as a history lesson. Particularly enlightening and frightening to me were chapters 3 (“Establishing Secret Prisons”), 4 (“Develop a Paramilitary Force”) and 7 (“Arbitrarily Detain and Release Prisoners,” about the disintegration of habeas corpus). In the “Restrict the Press” chapter, she makes some important points about the delegitimization of Truth, as well as making her most effective pitch at a solution when she calls upon bloggers to start taking their jobs more seriously.
But overall, I got tired of the comparisons to Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Stalinist Russia, modern China, Pinochet’s Chile, and other dictatorships. I don’t actually disagree with Wolf’s point, they just provoked a “Yeah, yeah, what next then?” response. Preaching to the choir. A big problem I had with the book was my impression that Wolf exaggerates at times. An example would be, when talking about surveillance:
One reason dictators demand access to such private data is that this scrutiny breaks down citizens’ sense of being able to act freely against those in power.
You know what, that may very well be one reason, but I can guarantee you it’s not the main reason, at least in the case of the U.S. Call me naive, but I believe that illegal wiretapping probably stems from a genuine desire to catch terrorists. Throughout the book, Wolf assigns this conspiratorial thinking where I’m not sure it exists.
For example, does Wolf really believe that G-Dub thought, “You know what we need to do? We need to break down our citizens’ sense of being able to act freely against us”? It is true that many of the tactics she describes lead to abridged freedom, but I don’t think she does lefties a service by fabricating this evil right wing empire-in-waiting, when most evidence points to it being a much more organic process, without one or even a group of evil masterminds guiding it. It’s scary enough as it is, and we need to discuss it honestly in order to figure out how to stop it. Wolf — perhaps unintentionally — injects a fair amount of irrational dogmatism into the conversation. . .
. . . And then her solution is that people should magically become more informed and politically active, and just better in general. And everyone should just magically get along and learn how to cooperate and work together to demand their freedom. Very helpful, Naomi. NOT.
As an aside, the book would have gained much credibility just from a more thorough proof-reading. It’s hard to take a book with so many typos seriously.