Second Vermont Republic

A citizen movement committed to restoring Vermont to an independent republic, free to pursue life, liberty and happiness unimpeded by the demands of an imperial, corrupt and disintegrating United States.

What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution, by Paul Detzer (BOOK REVIEW)

Modern United States is wrought with problems, and is lagging behind other affluent nations. Our nation currently ranks the lowest (21st out of 21) in inequality, poverty, life expectancy, infant mortality, mental health, obesity, maternity leave, paid annual leave, and overall environmental performance. These statistically prominent plagues of a modern society raises the important and eponymous question, What Then Must We Do? Straight Talk About The Next American Revolution. Blaming the Congressional deadlock has become a popular way to scapegoat all of the nations problems. Author Gar Alperovitz asserts our country of the great red, white, and blue has problems that are larger than political ones. These problems are systemic, and cannot be fixed without democratization and evolutionary reconstruction.

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In the book, What Then Must We Do, Alperovitz discusses the history of cooperative ownership, small scale socialism, and the current deteriorating nature of the “small d” democracy as we know it. He imagines a society where citizens “getting involved” in democracy is not simply going to the voting booth to elect a congressmen or government official to make a change… rather, a citizen could get involved by actively taking part in the ownership of government, in the creation of laws, and in the future they see in the society.

Our own state of Vermont is a prime example of this voluntary civic involvement in government. What Then Must We Do overlaps with the book by the Saint Michael’s Center for Social Science Research entitled Vermont in Transition: A Summary of Social, Economic and Environmental Trends. In Chapter 14, the book states, “Vermont has in place a strong network of civic participation to meet constantly changing public needs. Such extensive voluntary participation, according to Alexis de Tocqueville in the 19th century, is one of the hallmarks of democratic America, and is still a cornerstone of life in the Vermont tradition.” This quote sounds just like something out of the Vermont-published Gar Alperovitz book, as he states that civic involvement and voluntary participation are what we must do for a brighter future.

What Then Must We Do outlines the state of the country since World War II, and the economic boom that occurred afterwords. Alperovitz discusses the benefit of people working together for one purpose, and intelligently draws the similarity between the wartime workforce and a modern unionized workforce. He talks about the “quiet” popularity of unions and publicly owned business in the modern day. 25% of all electricity companies are publicly owned, and public internet service providers are on the rise as well, challenging the growing conglomerates such as Comcast. Alperovitz states, “Repeated study show that worker owned firms tend to be more profitable, more competitive, and more efficient, especially when adequate training has been done. Self-management excels over other comparable firms.”

Much of this book is spent pointing out the modern prevalence of actual socialism, and not just the “socialism” of which the right-wing media accuses Obama. Encyclopedia Brittanica defines socialism as “a social and economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and co-operative management of the economy.” “The amount of money spent to sell candidates in presidential elections is gone from from $92 million in 1980 to $1.1 billion in 2008[…] reaching around 2 billion in 2012.” Alperovitz outlines the necessity for a more co-operative style of government by citing the increased involvement of money in politics, and specifically the recent Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. With this decision, corporations are now legally allowed to donate exorbitant sums of money to candidates running for political office. This decision shed light on how the system is damaged on multiple fronts, and is not easily repaired by electing officials promising change.

Alperovitz succeeds by describing the current state of the nation, and it effectively outlines the current prevalence and benefits of local socialism and publicly owned business. But with a title directly referencing “the next American Revolution,” it does little to actually help the reader imagine what that would look like. With the now out-of-style “Occupy Movement,” I wondered how the author would imagine an actual revolution to look like, how it would start and what would result of it, though he kept the idea of this as more philosophical rather than dramatic. This is understandable as the book presents itself as an academic text, though the last few chapters of the book fall short. The book starts out just like my review, confronting the reader with unpleasant and almost painful statistics, evincing how the United States is failing on social, economic, and ecological fronts. The general thesis of the build-up of the book, to me, was if we, as a country, keep doing what we’ve been doing, it’s not long before everything turns to dust. But instead of some suggestion of a call to action, or raising the possibility of an actual revolution, the author concludes the book by describing six relatively vague possible options for the future of the country. And although this is far from a black and white issue, Alperovitz did not provide the reader with any closure or answers, and instead of being presented with a slew of nonspecific possibilities.

I expect to gain something more from reading a book asking an important question such as What Then Must We Do? But after finishing the book, that title is the very question I was left asking myself. Sure, the United States has a slew of problems. Of course, Washington is practically a puppet for large corporations to continue making money off the masses. But the only answer Alperovitz gives to that question (What must we do?) is, essentially, ‘something socialism related.’ As a whole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, but was left wanting more. It was fascinating to read about the innumerable systemic problems of the current U.S.  political system. In the past few years, I have gotten into nonfiction that questions the government and the current political system. With the internet, it is possible for your average citizen, such as myself, to learn about varying viewpoints and political stances that I would have never heard of inside of my own non-virtual life. I was never taught about socialism in school, and had not really thought about it in depth before reading this book. The discussion of the eponymous “revolution” was not as exciting as I had hoped, though shed some light on the philosophy of property ownership and cooperation as a people for a greater good.

One final thought – I was intrigued by Alperovitz’s viewpoint that the source of the issues in the US (the stats mentioned at the start of this review) are not political, as in, electing other “new” officials will not change anything in the long run. Rather, the system needs to be altered to benefit a common good for your average folk.

For more revolutionary writing, visit Chelsea Green Publishing.

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This entry was posted on October 14, 2014 by in Arts.
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