American Political Thought, eds. Isaac Kramnick and Theodore J. Lowi

A substantial contribution to the field, but it does not sit well with our goals as educators because of what it lacks: a truly representative manifest of the American experience.

American Political Thought

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Price: $45.90
Authors: Isaac Kramnick and Theodore J. Lowi
Pages: 1531
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: 2009-01

Although Will Ferrell’s character Ron Burgundy popularized it again recently, the phrase “agree to disagree” has been around for some time. There are just some topics – usually related to sports, religion and politics – that most people do not see to eye on and when we don’t, we graciously acquiesce.

The same cannot always be said of anthologies, which represent a cross-section of work tied to a common theme. Traditionally, most people do not agree on the content of anthologies – whether they are literature, film, music or something else - because the selection of contributions is so selective. And while most people could be cajoled to agree on core political or economic principles, getting people to agree on designating certain books or speeches as “essential” is a completely different ball game. The perpetual cause of contention for an editor is that someone always feels slighted and left out.

But of even more concern are not the fragile egos of academics, but the actual utility of the anthology itself, which arguably, was written to benefit a certain population to ameliorate their knowledge. One way to measure the “success” or benefit of an anthology is to examine how much the targeted audience should benefit from the collection.

The key then is to put together a collection of writing that is as comprehensive as possible and representative of many voices so that every vantage point and perspective can be edited and arranged in a cogent way that it informs and engenders debate. For their American Political Thought anthology, Cornell University Professors Isaac Kramnick and Theodore Lowi have contrived to present the diversity of American exceptionalism from two different paths – the liberal and conservative “traditions”.

The authors challenge Louis Hartz almost immediately, arguing that despite supporting Hartz’s famous theory of an American “liberal tradition” that he almost missed the boat by ignoring America’s “conservative tradition”. According to Kramnick and Lowi:

“America has a conservative political tradition that is just as broad and deep as the liberal tradition. But the two are rarely in true competition, let alone dialectical tension. They are as ships passing the day – conservatism being local and parochial, liberalism more cosmopolitan; conservatism concerned with order and obligation, liberalism with consequences and satisfactions. One pursues goodness, the other happiness.”

American Political Thought is, therefore, a collection of excerpts from speeches, articles, books, documents and Supreme Court majority, concurring and dissenting opinions. That is a lot of material and Kramnick and Lowi tackle their objective with relish – the book weighs in at 2.4 bs. and crosses 1,500 pages of everything from the Mayflower Compact (1620) to Amitai Etzioni’s “Communitarianism and the Moral Dimension” (2000).

Yet, despite the massive size, there are some notable omissions and following the trajectory of humbly agreeing to disagree, these omissions need to be highlighted. In the first place, the most glaring lack of material in American Political Thought is the lack thereof of said material after 2000. If this book had been released in 2002 or 2003 it would be excusable, but to look at all the contributions to the cannon in the last decade and not see any of that represented here is absurd.

For one, there is not a single essay or speech in this collection that reflects the abrupt change in American foreign policy following the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001. How can Kramnick and Lowi include George Kennan’s famous article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (1947), but leave out the Bush Doctrine of preventive war? But, there are even more egregious omissions. Where is President Obama’s speech from the 2004 Democratic National Convention, considered by many to be one of the finest political speeches of all time? What about Samuel Huntington’s last, major, controversial essay, “Jose Can You See?” from a 2004 issue of Foreign Policy?

There is also a notable dearth of major, influential Supreme Court opinions of the last decade. I will admit that the authors did present a good cross-section of the Court’s decisions from years past including Chief Justice John Marshall’s (in)famous opinion in Marbury v. Madison (1803) and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s dissent in Lochner v. New York (1925). However, I was shocked to not read either the concurring opinion or one of the dissents (there were four) in Bush v. Gore (2000); Justice Antonin Scalia’s majority opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008); or Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s dissent in Kelo v. New London (2005). All of these cases have become substantial parts of American case law.

Finally, what is also troubling is the lack of diversity or the concentration of representative diversity in only race, African-Americans. I can’t deny that Malcolm X, bell hooks, Cornel West, Justice Thurgood Marshall and others don’t deserve to be in this anthology, but why did Kramnick and Lowi leave out the voices of other American ethnicities? How is it that in such a tome, there is not a single Latina/Latino, Asian, or Arab-American voice? Where is Ronald Takaki? Or Edward Said? The exclusion of such a large chunk of American diversity is bewildering.

Historian Daniel Boorstin once wrote that the historian’s game is “a waiting game” and that he [the historian] “commits himself to a wager that in the race between the destructive powers of time and the reminiscent, reconstructive powers of man, somehow man is always gaining a little.” No truer words were ever written about the responsibility of historians and social scientists to document events as they unfold to write the present into the future. Thus, though Norton’s anthology of American Political Thought is a substantial contribution to the field, it does not sit well with our goals as educators because of what it lacks: a truly representative manifest of the American experience.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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