Levellers

Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

A Progressive Reading List

This list is focused on the U.S. context, but I invite global readers to suggest works from their part of the world, especially if there is an English-language edition.  I will probably review some of these works in depth in the coming year.  The list is suggestive and by no means is comprehensive. It reflects my biases and idiosyncrasies–after all, this is my blog.🙂

Lon Fendell, Stand Alone or Come Home:  Mark Hatfield as an Evangelical and Progressive.  (Barclay Press, 2008).  Hatfield, a member of the Conservative Baptist Association, was one of the last liberal Republican politicians.  He served in WWII before becoming Governor of Oregon and, later, U.S. Senator from Oregon. Hatfield retired in 1996 after 46 years in public service, having won every election campaign he entered.  Hatfield was against both abortion and the death penalty, a prominent opponent of the Vietnam War and supporter of amnesty for war resisters.  Although  not a pacifist, Hatfield was a consistent defender of the rights of conscience for pacifists and conscientious objectors, co-sponsoring every year legislation that would allow COs to pay all of their federal taxes with the assurance that none of their tax money would be used for military purposes.  His strong evangelical Christian faith was combined with a traditional Baptist defense of church-state separation. Thus, Hatfield consistently opposed efforts to mandate prayer in public schools or the use of tax money to support private, parochial schools–and would have been horrified by an “Office of Faith Based Initiatives” in the White House.  He co-sponsored Nuclear Freeze legislation in the ’80s and was a constant critic of excessive military spending.  If Hatfield had ever run for U.S. president, he is the only Republican I could have imagined voting for–and I often wished he would run.

Wellstone Action.  Politics the Wellstone Way:  How to Elect Progressive Candidates and Win on the Issues. (University of Minnesota Press, 2008). The late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-MN) was tragically killed in a plane crash in 2002. (N.B.: This is how Norm Coleman (R-MN), who is now trying to keep  his lost senate seat by lawsuit, came to the U.S. Senate–by beating a dead man. Minnesota Democrats scrambled to get former VP Walter Mondale to run in Wellstone’s place, but there was no time for a major campaign. ) He often said he represented “the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party,” meaning that he was a true progressive who rejected the “New Democrat” centrist strategy of Bill Clinton. (Obama seems to have 1 foot in Clintonian circles and 1 foot in progressive circles.)  This is a “how to” book from grassroots progressives.

Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power: The Indispensible Chomsky. (New Press, 2002).  The radical Chomsky is essential reading.

Mark Green & Michelle Jolin, eds., Change for America:  A Progressive Blueprint for the 44th President. (Basic Books, 2009).  This is a “how to” book for progressive activists–and for Obama.

Rabbi Michael Lerner.  The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right. (HarperOne, 2006).  This is Lerner’s “manifesto” for the Network of Spiritual Progressives, his interfaith coalition of the religious progressives.  One should also read Lerner’s Healing Israel/Healing Palestine:  A Path to Peace and Reconciliation.

Rebecca Todd Peters and Elizabeth  Hinson-Hasty, eds., To Do Justice:  Engaging Progressive Christians(Westminster/John Knox Press, 2008).

Paul Krugman, The Return of Depression-Era Economics and the Crisis of 2008. (Norton, 2008).  I have this on order. Krugman is Professor of Economics at Princeton University who won the Nobel Prize for Economics. He has been warning of the current economic crisis since 2003.  He is also a columnist for the New York Times and a prominent critic of the Bush administration and he pushes the Obama administration to be more progressive–especially urging the adoption of universal, not-for-profit, single-payer healthcare.  See also Krugman’s previous book, The Conscience of a Liberal.

Fareed Zakaria, The Post-American World. (Norton, 2008).  This is not an anti-American rant,  but the description of the “rise of the rest.”  At the end of WWII, the U.S. and USSR dominated the world in a nuclear balance of terror.  The collapse of the Soviet Union led to a brief period in which there was a unipolar world. The Bush administration and the Neo-Cons assumed this was permanent and based their policies of preemptive intervention on permanent U.S. dominance of  the globe in both military and economic terms.  They failed to understand (among the many other things they failed to grasp) that the unipower era was already ending when they took power–and that we now live in a world of multiple, powerful actors.

Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded:  Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How it Can Renew America. (Farrer, Straus,  and Giroux, 2008).  I consider Friedman a centrist rather than a true progressive or liberal, but he is reality-based and the global realities have pushed him to write this very progressive blueprint. 

 Van Jones, The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems(HarperOne, 2008).  Similar in theme to Friedman, but written in a more pragmatic vein.

Paul Loeb, The Impossible Will Take a Little While.(Basic Books, 2004).  This amazing book was one of those works that kept me from despair during the darkest days of the Bush administration. 

Muhammed Yunus.  Creating a World Without Poverty:  Social Business and the Future of Capitalism.  Written by the winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, economist Muhammed Yunus, who pioneered “micro-financing” as a way to create small businesses in the Two-Thirds Bank. His Grameen Bank, which has loaned out millions (in tiny amounts) to poor people without collateral and without interest, has a repayment rate of over 95%!  He argues that, in addition to traditional for-profit businesses and traditional non-profit charities, entrepeneurs should create not-for-profit “social businesses” whose “bottom line” is a better world. 

David Bornstein, How to Change the World:  Social Entrepeneurs and the Power of New IdeasUpdated Edition. (Oxford University Press, 2007).  The author had written the history of the Grameen Bank.

Jimmy Carter.  We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land:  A Plan That Will Work. (Simon and Schuster, 2009).  One of the many things I love about Jimmy Carter is that he never gives up.  He was only a B- president at best. He had great intentions, but was not very effective.  But I was still proud to vote for him over the horrible Ronald Reagan and he has been the best ex-president ever.  Here he shows that the outline for a lasting peace in the Middle East is the same as it was in 1978.  However, several things have made peace harder: Illegal Israeli settlements eating up land in Palestine; the Wall; the years of neglect by Bush; the election of Hamas by the Palestinians. But we have a window of opportunity and Carter pushes us to take it.

February 1, 2009 - Posted by | human rights., Jimmy Carter, just peacemaking, labor, progressive faith, Religious Social Criticism, U.S. politics

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the list, Michael. There are more than a couple of books on here that I hope to read based on your recommendation. A few of my favorites I would add include David Korten, The Great Turning: From Empire to Earth Community; Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine; and Chalmers Johnson, <Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.

    I wanted to comment on your reference to the recent book on Mark Hatfield. I used to live in Oregon and he was the last Republican I voted for. However, it was Wayne Morse (a bigger hero to me than Hatfield) not Hatfield who voted against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution (Hatfield was still governor then). Also according to Bill Kauffman’s interesting book, Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Anti-War Conservativism (a book I first learned on from a comment on your blog), Hatfield in recent years has moved to the right on war and peace issues and actually spoke out in support of our current war on Iraq.

    Comment by Ted Grimsrud | February 1, 2009

  2. Thanks for the corrections on Hatfield, Ted. The last part is disappointing and shows how there are no perfect politicians and that Christians must work to hold the best of them accountable. The L.A. Times today is reporting that Obama will keep the Bush practice of “rendition” (kidnapping terror suspects and sending them to nations that do not respect human rights). If that is true, we need to create a huge stink until he changes his mind. He is getting rightwing blowback for his decision to shutter Gitmo and the CIA secret prisons and this may be designed to stop rightwing protest–but it is a huge mistake and, if true, we need to create more trouble for him than the right.

    Last year I definitely counted Naomi Klein’s work as indispensible reading.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | February 1, 2009

  3. Michael:

    It seems to me that you have forgot all things fair and equitable to all Americans and completely went to the far Left Agenda. Don’t you have great readings for American’s in general? I have just spun on to your blog and was interested at first, but have seen how you have progressively become more and more left as I read your posts.

    Why not get out of diversity Left/Right, Republican/Democrat, whatever it is and just publish works by great American’s? The posts scare me since it is the liberal brain washing that I see throughout. I have been a non lethal effects officers for the military for a number of years, I understand how to effect & affect a populace without means of weapons. What you have here is basically a powderkeg of misrepresenation and farsightedness.

    I am a constitutionalist, not right or left, this is what I pledge to America. To be way left or way right is not in the best interest of America, way left is socialist, way right is complete capitalism/anarchy.

    Question for you – Why is it right for a Liberal to have an abortion but not OK to kill another Human Being? Confusing.

    Comment by Eric | July 20, 2009


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