“You probably have a sense—vague as it may be—that the weirdness of American life, and the intractability of its predicaments, large and small, are intimately, inexorably bound up with the craziness of everyday life. It’s entirely pos si ble that the motto on our coinage, IN GOD WE TRUST, still captures the most popu lar response to that. But, increasingly, a more useful motto for us might be ‘DEAL WITH IT.’”
A lot of people are unhappy these days, writes James Poulos in his brilliant new book, The Art of Being Free: How Alexis de Tocqueville Can Save Us from Ourselves. The hardest cases among us are invested deeply in politics, especially partisan politics. You probably know some longtime Hillary Clinton fans or Democrats who are still struggling to get out of bed since November (maybe you’re reading this from bed). But hell, even Republican Trump boosters can’t go five minutes without complaining how the world is going to hell for this or that reason. Trump’s whole appeal was that he was going to sand the rust off America and make it (and us!) great again.
When you throw in folks who are terrified that global warming is about to swamp the Midwest along with good old-fashioned religious end-timers, just about everybody is convinced these are the last days of modern Rome. Against such a background, Poulos’ The Art of Being Free isn’t just a pleasant diversion from the dog-eat-dog world of 24/7 news and partisan bickering. It’s an all-you-can-eat buffet for the mind, groaning with allusions to history, political science, economics, literature, and pop culture: Socrates, Nietzche, Netflix, The Smashing Pumpkins, Seinfeld, Stendahl, and Scooby-Doo all make appearances in this essay about getting beyond superficial politics to the parts of life that really matter. And along the way, he charts a path that just might lead back to politics that will help us all be free to become whomever we think we want to be.
A late-thirtysomething writer for The Week, National Interest, The Daily Beast, and elsewhere, Poulos talks with Nick Gillespie about how Americans have historically tied ourselves in knots because “we love equality, we want unity, we fear uniformity.” Using Tocqueville’s Democracy in America as his lantern, he wanders far and wide through today’s noisy landscape and brilliantly dispels “the sense of haunted despair” that so many of us wear like our favorite hoodie.
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