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Democracy Matters.

by Cornel West The Penguin Press, September 2004 $24.95, ISBN 1-594-20029-7

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 spell-bindingly voluble.

A few years ago, West-he of the three-piece suit and retro-Afro--insisted that race matters, now democracy is the concern. "This book will, in part," West explains at the outset, "explore the rich insights and expressions of that deep democratic tradition, from the radical iconoclasm of Socrates, to the tragically schizophrenic visions of the American Founding Fathers, to the exuberant and brilliant indictments laid down by hip-hop." (Can't you just hear these words rolling out of his mouth?)

To chart the often exasperating course of democracy in America, West limns the work. of such eminent writers and thinkers as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison. This process is embellished and energized by the Socratic method of questioning, the ancient Hebrew sense of justice and commitment and, as he so elegantly states, the "painful eloquence of the blues; and exuberantly in the improvisational virtuosity of jazz."

It is the last of these three elements, which is undergirded by a tragicomic hope, that West swings with delightful fervor and resonance. 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 matters. So does Cornel West.

Herb Boyd frequently writes about history and other issues for Black Issues Book Review.
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Author:Boyd, Herb
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2004
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