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Finding hope in past for new order that resolves polarization

| Saturday, July 11, 2015, 9:00 p.m.

Today's partisan and ideological polarization is severe but neither hopeless nor unprecedented, James Piereson maintains in “Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America's Postwar Political Order” (Encounter Books, available Tuesday).

Despite the book's title, Piereson — president of the William E. Simon Foundation and senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute — covers more than just the post-World War II period. And he's hopeful because America has survived other such periods of political dysfunction.

He says the first culminated in the Civil War, resolving tensions over slavery and territorial matters that had begun to upset our young nation's settled order around 1800. The second was forced by the Great Depression, which broke down the laissez-faire capitalist/industrialist order that arose after the Civil War. And now, America faces its third such crisis point, as the post-World War II consensus of the 1940s and 1950s, characterized by Keynesian economics and goals of full employment at home and containing communism and promoting freedom abroad, continues its erosion, which began during the 1960s.

Piereson says America, facing a stagnant economy and unsustainable expansion of government, its debt and its entitlement programs, plus demographic challenges posed by the baby boomers reaching retirement age, likely is in for political upheaval over the next decade. What's needed is a new consensus that supports policies different from those of the postwar consensus — policies that can tackle all those issues successfully.

Piereson sees hope in the ability to remake its political order that America has demonstrated in the past. As he writes, “No particular consensus or set of political arrangements can be regarded as permanent in a dynamic country like the United States.”

He doesn't claim to know exactly when or how the new consensus America needs will come about. Rather, he says, the nation's problems either “will be addressed through a ‘fourth revolution' or the polity will begin to disintegrate. … The end of the postwar regime need not bring about the end of America. On the contrary, it could open a dynamic new chapter in the American story.”

CONFRONTING MORTALITY

“You're Going to be Dead One Day: A Love Story” by David Horowitz (Regnery) — This book finds its author, famed for his transition from 1960s radical leftist to firebrand conservative, grappling with infirmity and mortality. He's contemplating such matters after nerve damage inflicted during a botched hip-replacement surgery in early 2014 robbed him of his mobility and left him with chronic neuropathic pain at age 75. Horowitz covers how and why there's more to life than politics, muses on lessons learned, reflects on his regrets, mistakes and triumphs, and discusses the power, responsibility and need to eventually let go that are all part of parenthood. Horowitz remains an agnostic but maintains that he nevertheless has lived his life with faith — faith that his actions “meant something and everything would add up in the end.” Despite the melancholy subject matter, he “still faces death with optimism and hope,” according to the publisher.

MAKING AN EXAMPLE OF CALIFORNIA

“California Dreaming: Lessons on How to Resolve America's Public Pension Crisis” by Lawrence J. McQuillan (Independent Institute) — The author is a Ph.D. economist who directs the Oakland, Calif.-based Independent Institute's Center on Entrepreneurial Innovation. In this book, he tackles Golden State woes regarding public-sector pensions underfunded by hundreds of billions of dollars. But the “comprehensive solution” he offers “could be applied anywhere in America facing a similar problem,” the publisher says. After explaining some pension-fund basics, he covers the factors that led to California's massive problems, including politicians allowing the crisis to grow and failing to fix it. McQuillan proposes six reforms that he says would resolve California's pension crisis equitably, responsibly and morally while preserving benefits already earned, providing competitive pension plans going forward, and giving municipal and state governments the flexibility necessary to ensure that future generations won't end up footing the bill for today's unfunded liabilities.

IN THE PIPELINE

Forthcoming titles from both ends of the political spectrum:

Conservative

• “The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the 21st Century” by Ronald Bailey (Thomas Dunne Books, July 21)

• “In Search of Democracy” by Larry Diamond (Routledge, July 31)

• “Abraham Lincoln and the Virtues of War: How Civil War Families Challenged and Transformed Our National Values” by Jean E. Friedman (Praeger, July 31)

• “Scarlet Letters: The Ever-Increasing Intolerance of the Cult of Liberalism” by Jack Cashill (WND Books, Aug. 4)

• “Truth Overruled: The Future of Marriage and Religious Freedom” by Ryan T. Anderson (Regnery, Aug. 10)

Liberal

• “Unmanned: Drones, Data and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare” by William M. Arkin (Little, Brown and Co., July 28)

• “The Economics of Inequality” by Thomas Piketty, translated by Arthur Goldhammer (Belknap Press, Aug. 3)

• “Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America” by Ari Berman (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Aug. 4)

• “Because We Say So” by Noam Chomsky (City Lights Publishers, Aug. 11)

• “Trouble in Paradise: From the End of History to the End of Capitalism” by Slavoj Zizek (Melville House, Aug. 18)

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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