Saturday, July 10

The New Pamphleteers - The Public Sphere in the New Millenium

"We cannot expect today's political books to stand up to the weightier tomes of the 1950's and 60's, since the Establishment that sponsored the latter no longer exists. Our pamphleteers spend so much time debating each other's media prominence because both sides recognize that there is no national interest for which any one journalist can speak; when the war in Iraq ends, it will not be because a television anchor pronounced it a futile enterprise, as Walter Cronkite famously did during Vietnam. Right and left continue to debate the 2000 election because even the Supreme Court proved itself incapable of making an impartial decision. They accuse each other of treason because no ''wise men'' can be found with the ability to define the proper use of American power. Pamphleteering is what happens when no one -- editorial writers, university professors, publishing executives -- is doing much ''filtering.''

For all their ugliness of language and unpersuasive fury, then, the current crop of political pamphlets bears a striking resemblance to the increasingly democratic culture in which they flourish. If their authors are poorly versed in American history, so are the young executives talking about the election at the airport bar while waiting for their connecting flights. If these books treat their side as good and their opponents as evil, so do the sermons in our booming evangelical churches. The style is melodramatic, but that is also true of ''Troy.'' Our political culture cannot be immune from the rest of our culture. The model for political argument these days is not the Book-of-the-Month Club but"

Wolfe reviews a dozen of the most important new books, on the right and left, in The New York Times > The New Pamphleteers