BOOKS IN BRIEF
What Works: Research About Teaching and Learning
Foreword by William J. Bennett, Introduction by Chester E. Finn, Jr.
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1986
ix + 65 pp., no price listed
"This is not an education 'cookbook' so much as a 'guide to sound nutrition'" notes Assistant Secretary of Education for Research and Improvement Chester Finn in the Introduction. The booklet's layout enables the reader to grasp the main points quickly: Under the rubrics of home, classroom, and school, forty-one "research findings" (really one or two-sentence expressions of common sense) are accompanied by a "Comment" of less than a page of text, plus a list of several references to social science findings. In some instances the facing page provides quotations from great works to illuminate the point; for example, the research finding "The best way for parents to help their children become better readers is to read to them . . ." is prefaced by a few sentences from John Locke.
Parents, teachers, and school administrators who want this rare government report supporting the conclusions of common sense can obtain it from the Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009.
Nicaragua: Revolution in the Family
New York: Random House, 1985
337 pp., $19.95
What you think of Nicaragua depends a lot on which way you're going. Compare it with the great dungeons of the East, and it seems almost the paradise that hopeful Soviet sailors have long imagined Cuba to be; compare it with the United States, and you'll wonder if you are in Moscow already. This situation is reflected in the current debate over aid to the Contras: the Sandinistas' foes will catalogue such abuses as restriction of free speech and assembly, kangaroo courts, and, recently, several hundred political murders. But these things just don't shock us as much after Cambodia. At the other podium stands a social science professor with a briefcase full of Mary-knoll nuns. He denies or ignores the abuses, and extols such achievements of Sandinism as literary campaigns and land reform. But how can we believe in progress under a government whose economic advisers are Bulgarian!
New York Times reporter Shirley Christian brings the Nicaraguan revolution into focus by avoiding such comparisons and confining herself instead to narrative. She has composed a political tragedy, largely out of direct quotations from the participants and the stories of individual men. We are immediately impressed with the human resources which were available, at the fall of Somoza, for the establishment of a liberal democracy. Somoza was overthrown by a broad coalition of political parties, labor unions, and business groups. Our disappointment is therefore profound as Christian describes how a handful of men stole the revolution. Immensely popular at first, they could easily have dominated an elected government. But their Marxist-Leninist convictions led them to treat the Nicaraguan people arrogantly and even tyrannically. The nine commandantes of the National Directorate have never wavered in their devotion to Marxism-Leninism; the only dialogue among them concerns the proper means for maintaining a monopoly of power. Today Cuban and East German educators probably exert a far deeper influence on the fabric of ordinary life than ever did a company of American Marines.
Christian refutes the common claim of Sandinista supporters that the regime was "driven to the left" by President Reagan and the Contras. The Commandantes responded to $118 million in direct U.S. aid by refusing to hold elections, by openly courting the Soviet-block nations, and by supplying the Communist rebels in El Salvador. Moreover, the present civil war dates from Humberto Ortega's June 1981 declaration that all non-Marxist "allies" against Somoza were to be considered as enemies. The Contra armies are led and manned by Nicaraguans who suffered grievously under the new state and were denied any lawful means of dissent. Three times as many rebels now oppose the Sandinistas as took part in the revolution. These include the Miskito Indians, who could tolerate Somoza but not the invasion of Cubans and Sandinistas. Nearly half their population has been forcibly uprooted, and many are now in exile or are making war on the regime.
Christian demonstrates that the Sandinistas are responsible for virtually all opposition to their regime, domestic as well as foreign. No member of Congress who has not consulted Christian's book is competent to vote on aid to the Contras. Only a fool or a coward can still hope for a diplomatic solution: We must aid the forces of liberalism struggling against the Sandinistas, or leave the Nicaraguan people to their dismal fate.
- Kenneth C. Blanchard, Jr.
Claremont Graduate School
The Root: The Marines in Beirut, August 1982-February 1984
New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1985
xxviii + 480 pp., $19.95
It has been two years since we woke up one Sunday morning in October to the news that Shiite terrorists had bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut killing 241 young men.
Marine historian Eric Hammel has given us a first-rate account of the events that led up to the bombing. Having interviewed survivors of the Marine battalion, Hammel describes in detail the largely "unreported war" (the press being otherwise engaged) the Marines were fighting and the frustrations they encountered. Told to "establish a presence"-orders of a sort never before given a Marine battalion-they were limited in every conceivable way under strict "Rules of Engagement."
The Root is the story of yet another undeclared war and the way our men in uniform are often asked to shed their blood for an ill-defined mission, receiving instructions all the while on every detail from the rear. Lessons of Vietnam, anyone?
Alien Powers: The Pure Theory of Ideology
New York: St. Martin's Press, 1985
230 pp., $27.50 (cloth), $13.50 (paper)
Alien Powers, the latest work by the English political theorist Kenneth Minogue, schematically portrays the deceptive and paradoxical nature of the ideological mind. The ideologist seeks to liberate the downtrodden by coming down to the people, stone tablets in arm, proclaiming the hidden and saving truths about the evils of the world. Minogue walks the reader through the tragic birth and political development of what many still believe to be a superior science of social analysis. Though chiefly an examination of the pure theory of ideology and its application in Marxist doctrine, other ideological movements (feminism, for example) and the relationship of the ideologist to the academic do not escape Minogue's criticism.
Captivated by modern science, the ideologist discovered the systematic character of actual human life by diverting his attention from the intentions of man to the results and unintended consequences of human actions. Ideology is a science superior to all other sciences because it already has the truth and hence attempts to make the world in the very process of understanding it. The ideologist is at once a practitioner and a melodramatic critic of society, which is the seedbed of vice and gross injustice. Marx masterfully turned the pitiable man into a passive victim of his social environment and used the nonrational in his world to explain ideas and social phenomena. In bold fashion Marx collapsed the moral and political realms into the social. Politics, for Marx, is a hopeless endeavor because it rests upon shifting judgments and uncertainties and, consequently, is unable to determine human destinies.
Minogue's message is clear. Ideology must not be identified with politics, since politics involves the activity of free men and presupposes a contribution of wisdom from each citizen. To the ideologist, Western democracy is an absurdity because, by definition, the misguided many are entrusted to choose their leaders. The ideologist often uses a moral and democratic language, but his principal task is to guide man (forcibly if necessary), not to persuade him. Ideology hides its destructive ends by abusing moral and political speech. Minogue explains, "It is a characteristic of ideology to appropriate the moral and political aspirations of a modern society, expand their range, and thereby destroy any meaning they have."
Unfortunately, the pervasive use of academic and ideological jargon will discourage many students of politics from thoroughly understanding this book. The rewards of perseverance, however, are great indeed. Despite its deficient account of the purpose of politics and the state, Alien Powers significantly contributes to our understanding of the pathology of the ideological mind by clarifying the contempt ideology has for the institutions of stable politics and the scorn it elicits for man's particular loyalties (friends, family, and country). Minogue rightly believes that a proper understanding of the modern world and the challenges posed to Western democracies entails a knowledge of the ideological phenomenon; i.e., man's tragic appeal to alien powers for a substitute for real community.
- Steven J. Lambakis