Post-Election Discussion with Gary Gerstle
Historian Gary Gerstle to join Critical Theory and the Arts for a Post-election discussion of his new book, Liberty and Coercion.
“A deep commitment to allowing individuals to live freely cohabits in one system of governance with a profound determination to police the population.”
-Gary Gerstle, Liberty and Coercion
The presidential campaign now underway presents the nation—as seen through our very own eyes—with a vision of the wrenching apart of its party system. It is an astonishing situation: even when obliged to argue vociferously for one candidate or the other, approximately no one is in favor of the nominees. The opposing sides of this fraying nation share unanimity, if nowhere else, in ‘disgust’ for, or ‘mistrust’ of the candidates. But however directed toward individual candidates, a slight shift of optic shows that these feelings expressively characterize how the nation senses itself as it threatens to breech long established representational boundaries. Populations amounting to much of the nation, no longer find their lives, their ideas, their moods, fears and aspirations credibly contained and represented by the political parties as evinced in their standard bearers. The parties themselves are excruciatingly aware that their constituencies are preparing to bolt, and would perhaps do so in a moment, if they had somewhere else to turn. Once this election is over, no doubt, the national parties will be scrambling to find ways credibly to recapture a suddenly remote electorate. How did it come to this?
In his brilliant, broadly learned and constructively illuminating new book, Liberty and Coercion, historian Gary Gerstle—the Paul Mellon Professor of American History, University of Cambridge—provides a study of the development of the political dynamic of representation in United States. The work reaches its conclusion in this thought, which the whole of the book develops: “A deep commitment to allowing individuals to live freely cohabits in one system of governance with a profound determination to police the population” (p. 349). That cuts to the quick; Tocqueville would have admired it. It is an essential formulation of the puzzle shaping the rage at government that otherwise now, mostly blindly, preoccupies the nation. Gerstle has written a valuable study, and it will present the context for our post-election discussion of the presidential contest with him later this year.