Added my review of Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge over at Good Reports. This is a must-read for political junkies, offering a thorough and insightful interpretation of the ’70s. (For another book on the same subject written by a kindred spirit I recommend Dominic Sandbrook’s Mad as Hell. For a more academic analysis, James T. Patterson’s Restless Giant. Or, if your tastes are more right-wing, David Frum’s How We Got Here.) Perlstein’s book is quite long and detailed, but manages to forcefully argue a single thesis: that in these years Reagan turned America away from self-criticism toward simple optimism and feel-good nationalism. It describes, in other words, yet another example of the deep and abiding anti-rationality that seems to be inherent in most societies. We should stop being surprised by this. As Perlstein remarks at one point near the end of his survey:
Liberals tend to get into the biggest political trouble when they presume that a reform is an inevitable concomitant of progress. This is when they are most unprepared for the blinding backlash that invariably ensues.
Blinding and blind. “Progress” is neither natural nor ineluctable. We can, and do, go into reverse.