Reviews for The Dying Citizen

by Victor Davis Hanson

Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Conservative historian Hanson, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, faults what he sees as a diminished respect for American citizenship. What does it mean to be a “citizen”? In a deeply contextualized call to arms, Hanson moves from the ancient Greeks and Romans through the Federalists and Enlightenment philosophers to show how answers to the question have evolved and why he believes cherished ideals about American citizenship are under assault by progressives. As he sees it, “citizens must be economically autonomous.” Unless a sturdy middle class can achieve “material security,” a society divides into “masters and peasants.” That division shows up in the widening gap between the ultrarich and everyone else, including a “new American peasantry,” exemplified by student-debt–ridden millennials. In the author’s view, the forces hostile to a strong citizenry include globalization, “tribal” loyalties to ethnic or cultural groups instead of a place, and people or institutions who support those trends—e.g., sanctuary cities, “politically correct commissars,” and schools’ lack of adequate civics classes. Hanson offers a broader intellectual framework for the erosion of the middle class than analysts who focus on narrower aspects, such as the social and economic costs of lost jobs. While that perspective is valuable, his case often devolves into overfamiliar or one-sided denunciations of critics of Trump, a president he believes promoted the “sanctity” of citizenship and the “healing” of American divisions. He faults CNN journalists, for example, for their “repeated, obscene, and unprofessional anti-Trump outbursts” without mentioning Sean Hannity’s opposing rants at Fox News, to which Hanson contributes. For all his useful historical context on citizenship, even the staunchest conservatives may flinch at the tastelessness of his comment that CNN’s sins extended to “perhaps the late CNN host Anthony Bourdain joking in an interview about poisoning Trump.” A wide-ranging perspective on citizenship undercut by unedifying assaults on Trump’s critics. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.