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Authors: Cornel West

Democracy Matters

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Praise for
Democracy Matters

“In the vein of Socrates, West asks a question with great significance for the pending democratic future of America: ‘Has not every major empire pursued quixotic dreams of global domination—of shaping the world in its image and for its interest—that resulted in internal decay and doom?’…A timely analysis about the current state of democratic systems in America.”


The Boston Globe

“Democracy Matters
is richer and more compelling [than
Race Matters
] largely because it contains a historical component that was mostly neglected in its predecessor. In his chapter on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example, West boils down several decades’ worth of history on the movement for a Jewish state into just thirty pages…. We see similar balance in his chapter about Christian identity…His exploration of the past is refreshing.”


The Washington Post Book World

“If the Ivy League ever designated the title of Soul Brother No. 1 of American Intellectuals, Princeton University professor Cornel West would be its first laureate…. The book…is an enraged yet somehow hopeful critique of what he sees as America’s shift away from democratic values toward shallow materialism at home and racist militarism abroad.”


The Seattle Times

“West has delivered a sequel that will expand the audience of those who celebrate his prophetic witness and annoy without end his usual critics…. West’s writing has the immediacy of a cough that wracks the entire body. There is urgency on every page. While it thoughtfully develops many of West’s long-standing interests, including the burden of race as a drag on the nation’s moral development, his work displays a clarity of language that
Race Matters
, for all of its ground-breaking insight, lacked…. Cornel West’s best-written and most urgent books in years.”


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“What is most rewarding about reading Cornel West is that he writes like he talks. As anyone who has been present at one of his speeches or lectures can tell you, there are few public intellectuals on the
planet as spellbindingly voluble…. The subtitle of the book is ‘Winning the Fight Against Imperialism,’ and the topic never stands a chance as he lays bare the very innards, the hypocrisy of the American empire and its inequities. In the end, West demonstrates that race and democracy are indisputably joined, and that both matter. So does Cornel West.”


Black Issues Book Review

“We can state an elemental truth upfront: This book is sorely needed…. West, as this and his prior books evidence, is a brilliant and deeply informed moral analyst.
Democracy Matters
contains numerous insights into the nature of our current political and social morass….
Democracy Matters
is required reading.”


The Crisis

“Democracy Matters
is as much a history of the inspirational antecedents to democracy as it is a diagnosis and prescription for what ails the first Western democratic republic…. As usual, Cornel West displays an astounding grasp of seemingly disparate topics that relate to the current predicament and future hope for American democracy…. I believe that
Democracy Matters
is Cornel West’s best book since the ’90s, and we can only hope that it doesn’t take another decade for him to convey to us those things that matter most to the future of America.”


The Atlanta Daily World

“Democracy Matters
…is a vital book for our times.”


The News & Observer
(North Carolina)

“[A] vital argument: that American democracy is at risk and that its restoration does indeed matter.”

—Kevin Phillips, author of
American Dynasty

“A compelling and sought-after deep thinker in a nation weaned on five-second sound bites.”


The Seattle Times

“Democracy Matters
is a must-read book, not only for Howard students, but also for every single literate American.”


The Hilltop
, Howard University

PENGUIN BOOKS

DEMOCRACY MATTERS

Cornel West is Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University. He has held positions at Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, Harvard University, and the University of Paris. He has written numerous books, including
Race Matters, The American Evasion of Philosophy
, and
The Cornel West Reader.
His
Beyond Eurocentrism and Multiculturalism
(vols. 1 and 2) won the American Book Award.

PENGUIN BOOKS

Published by the Penguin Group

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Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
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Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in the United States of America by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. 2004,
Published in Penguin Books 2005

Copyright © Cornel West, 2004
All rights reserved

Page 220
constitutes an extension of this copyright page.

The composition “Where Ya At?” with lyrics by DA Smart and others
appears on
One Million Strong: The Album.

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE HARDCOVER EDITION AS FOLLOWS:

West, Cornel.

Democracy matters : winning the fight against imperialism / Cornel West.

p.   cm.

Includes index.

ISBN: 978-1-101-65586-3

1. Democracy.   2. Imperialism.   3. Democracy—United States.

I. Title.

JC423.W384 2004

321.8—dc22         2004050520

Designed by Amanda Dewey

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

The scanning, uploading and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

To five great democratic teachers

M
ARTIN
K
ILSON
Pioneering Harvard professor, lifelong mentor,
and towering black intellectual

P
RESTON
W
ILLIAMS
Path-blazing Harvard professor, grand exemplar of the legacy
of Martin Luther King Jr., and dear godfather

S
HELDON
W
OLIN
Sterling Princeton professor, blessed thesis adviser,
and the greatest theorist of democracy in our time

S
TANLEY
A
RONOWITZ
Grand public intellectual, lifelong comrade,
and fellow lover of deep democracy

D
ILAN
Z
EYTUN
W
EST
Beloved daughter, bearer of elegant style,
and the source of great joy and love

CONTENTS

1.
D
EMOCRACY
M
ATTERS
A
RE
F
RIGHTENING IN
O
UR
T
IME

2.
N
IHILISM IN
A
MERICA

3.
T
HE
D
EEP
D
EMOCRATIC
T
RADITION IN
A
MERICA

4.
F
ORGING
N
EW
J
EWISH AND
I
SLAMIC
D
EMOCRATIC
I
DENTITIES

5.
T
HE
C
RISIS OF
C
HRISTIAN
I
DENTITY IN
A
MERICA

6.
T
HE
N
ECESSARY
E
NGAGEMENT WITH
Y
OUTH
C
ULTURE

7.
P
UTTING
O
N
O
UR
D
EMOCRATIC
A
RMOR

Acknowledgments

Index

1

DEMOCRACY MATTERS ARE FRIGHTENING IN OUR TIME

We have frequently printed the word Democracy, yet I cannot too often repeat that it is a word the real gist of which still sleeps, quite unawakened, notwithstanding the resonance and the many angry tempests out of which its syllables have come, from pen or tongue. It is a great word, whose history, I suppose, remains unwritten, because that history has yet to be enacted.


W
ALT
W
HITMAN
,
Democratic Vistas
(1871)

To be an Afro-American, or an American black, is to be in the situation, intolerably exaggerated, of all those who have ever found themselves part of a civilization which they could in no wise honorably defend—which they were compelled, indeed, endlessly to attack and condemn—and who yet spoke out of the most passionate love, hoping to make the kingdom new, to make it honorable and worthy of life.


J
AMES
B
ALDWIN
,
No Name in the Street
(1972)

A decade ago I wrote
Race Matters
in order to spark a candid public conversation about America’s most explosive issue and most difficult dilemma: the ways in which the vicious legacy of white supremacy contributes to the arrested development of
American democracy. This book—the sequel to
Race Matters
—will look unflinchingly at the waning of democratic energies and practices in our present age of the American empire. There is a deeply troubling deterioration of democratic powers in America today. The rise of an ugly imperialism has been aided by an unholy alliance of the plutocratic elites and the Christian Right, and also by a massive disaffection of so many voters who see too little difference between two corrupted parties, with blacks being taken for granted by the Democrats, and with the deep disaffection of youth. The energy of the youth support for the Howard Dean campaign and avid participation in the recent antiglobalization protests are promising signs, however, of the potential to engage them.

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