February 21, 2006
Gag Rule: On the Suppression of Dissent and
Stifling of Democracy (Hardcover)
Lewis Lapham has been the Editor of "Harper's" magazine for 30 years (retiring as Editor Emeritus this spring). In the March issue (not available online), Lapham calls for the impeachment of George W. Bush in that venerable publication. Have we got your attention yet?
Lapham concludes his impeachment call with these trenchant words: "It is the business of the Congress to prevent the President from doing more damage than he's already done to the people, interests, health, well-being, safety, good name, and reputation of the United States--to cauterize the wound and stem the flows of money, stupidity and blood."
"Gag Rule" is a book Lapham wrote during these dark hours of Bushevism, a book that details his scorn for how the Republican Party has laid waste to democracy.
As one reviewer noted of "Gag Rule": If "dissent is Democracy. [Then] Democracy is in Trouble. Never before, Lewis Lapham argues, have voices of protest been so locked out of the mainstream conversation, so marginalized and muted by a government that recklessly disregards civil liberties, and by an ever more concentrated and profit-driven media in which the safe and the salable sweep all uncomfortable truths from view.
"In the midst of the 'war on terror' - which makes the hunt for Communists in the 1950s look, in its clarity of aim and purpose, like the Normandy landings on D-Day - we face a crisis of democracy as serious as any in our history. The Bush administration makes no secret of its contempt for a cowed and largely silenced electorate, and without bothering to conceal its purpose the government coordinates 'not the defense of the American citizenry against a foreign enemy but the protection of the American plutocracy from the American democracy.'
"Gag Rule is a rousing and necessary call to action in defense of one of our most important liberties, the right to raise our voices in dissent and have those voices heard."
A review awhile back in "The Nation" notes of "Gag Rule": "One hundred years ago, in the wake of England's ruinous victory in the Boer War, a young Liberal politician excoriated the ruling Conservative Party and its imperial scam: 'A party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation, corruption at home, aggression to cover it up abroad ... sentiment by the bucketful, patriotism by the imperial pint, the open hand at the public exchequer, the open door at the public house, dear food for the millions, cheap labor for the millionaire.' As Lewis Lapham points out in Gag Rule, where this and a great many other nuggets of historically apposite and rhetorically scintillating prose are marshaled, these words of Winston Churchill fairly describe the Bush II Administration as well. (Substitute "church" for 'public house,' of course.) If only a few Democratic voices could find the young Churchill's register.
"...the Congress have joined the attack on democratic accountability and popular sovereignty. Executive-branch decision-making is increasingly insulated from public scrutiny and comment; more and more important documents are unavailable or unaffordable; the prerogatives of law-enforcement agencies are steadily expanded in the national-security area, though narrowed in respect of tax and securities fraud, air and water pollution, violations of labor law and occupational safety rules, and other constraints on profitability. Harper's has done stellar work in showing how the claims of the Reagan and Gingrich revolutions to "get government off the backs of the American people" merely camouflaged their sustained effort to keep the American people off the backs of the government and its corporate principals."
Lapham is an erudite writer and superb stylist of the old school, capable of penning sentences that are witheringly sardonic and painfully prophetic. He is a practitioner of the art of literacy and the power of the words to illuminate and lead us back to a civil society.
The challenge we face is that the Lewis Laphams of the world have been replaced by plasma television screens everywhere from supermarkets, to restaturants, to airports -- and, of course, to our homes.
America is increasingly a nation of people who develop their beliefs based on the passing images and advertising/news soundbites of the most mind-altering narcotic of our time: TV.
In "Gag Rule," Lapham rages valiantly against the dumbing down of our civil discourse into the sloganeering of demagoguery aided and abetted by the merger of entertainment and news. Is Lapham a supernumerary, a phantom reminder of the golden hope of democracy?
Or do we yet have time to drive the barbarians who betray our Constitution and our American heritage of justice and inclusiveness out of the White House, Congress, and off of the Supreme Court?
Due to a special purchase of "Gag Rule," we are able to offer it at below the original retail price (including shipping).