Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gag Rule

Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and Stifling of Democracy is a good book for any citizen, patriot, or someone with a fondness for real democracy in my humble opinion. Published in 2004, Lewis Lapham’s book is a bit dated, but still worth reading since the US government is still restricting, curtailing and prying into citizen’s lives in an alarming fashion. Some of Lapham’s information, e. g. his outrage at how Bush lied his way into the war in Iraq is old hat. We all know this, don’t we? But there are some fresh facts.

Lapham recounts how dissent and the free press have been suppressed during the Civil War, during McKinley’s presidency (he appears to give 43 a run for his money), and during and after WWI when journalists who didn’t just print the party line were jailed. Lapham reminds us that democracy is usually messy, brash and unwelcomed, when it’s in its true state and that “dissent seldom walks onstage to the sound of a warm and wel-comed applause.” He exhorts us to speak out anyway since that’s the only way real democracy stands a chance at survival.

The fourth chapter, “Democracy in Irons” struck me as needlessly preachy. I felt scolded for not voting or being apathetic, when hey, I do vote, I do write my representatives and I do read the papers and even subscribe, when in the US to Harpers, which Lapham edits. Maybe my skin is too thin, but I do think Lapham should realize that the average person who buys a book with this title wants more dissent and more involvement in politics.

If you read this little book, do not skip the many footnotes. They’re gems and even merited underlining.

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