Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Sophia Rosenfeld's "Democracy and Truth: A Short History"

Sophia Rosenfeld is the Walter H. Annenberg Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Common Sense: A Political History, which won the Mark Lynton History Prize.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book, Democracy and Truth: A Short History, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Populism is, of course, much in the news these days. What it is not is an ideology or a fixed program. Rather, it is best described as a style or logic or, I’m going to suggest, narrative framework for conceptualizing and shaping political power that builds on the assumed opposition between two starkly defined camps. Typically, it begins with a (self-congratulatory) exaltation of the real people, the unjustifiably powerless. It adds a gripe about the past that often morphs into a full-blown conspiracy theory starring the unjustifiably powerful. It concludes with a fairytale-like denouement and new, mythic social role for its adherents. What is less noticed is how much it—like the Progressives’ arguments for the enhancement of expert guidance, which flourished at much the same moment in the late nineteenth century—depends upon a set of suppositions about how and whose truths to live by, or validated beliefs, are to be found in a real democracy. Only in this case, the solution involves rejecting ostensibly objective expertise and all the institutions, values, norms, procedures, and people that expertise goes with and valorizing a combination of quotidian experience and the feelings, impulses, beliefs, and institutions of ordinary people instead.
Page 99 of Democracy and Truth: A Short History actually gets at one of the central issues in the book: the longstanding tension at the heart of democracy between the supposed wisdom of the crowd, on the one hand, and the need for information to be vetted and evaluated by a learned elite made up of trusted experts, on the other. Whereas technocrats and “epistocrats” threaten to ignore the former, populists reject the latter.
Learn more about Democracy and Truth at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

The Page 99 Test: Common Sense: A Political History.

--Marshal Zeringue