The Thing with Feathers
Still the Best Hope:
Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph
By Dennis Prager
Broadside Books, 448 pages
If the sneering contempt with which conservative radio talk-show hosts—those supposed monsters of illiterate shock-jockery—were truly deserved, the sneerers would surely be brought up short by Dennis Prager’s polemic citing works such as Marx’s Critique of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of Right,’ Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, John Adams’s letters to Benjamin Rush, Joseph Telushkin’s A Code of Jewish Ethics, and Bernard Lewis’s The Political Language of Islam. Still the Best Hope presents Prager’s argument for the continued attraction of the American way of life, despite the aggressions against it from the academy and the wounds it has suffered from the Great Recession and a presidency that finds American exceptionalism such a bother.
The list of authors he cites in marshaling his case ranges widely, from Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville to Raul Hilberg and Deborah Lipstadt. In common with his fellow radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved, with whom he shares the airwaves of the Salem Radio Network, Prager is neither more nor less than an intellectual whose day job at the microphone lays him open to being profoundly underestimated by his political opponents.
The erudition on display in Still the Best Hope sets this book far apart from the kind of rent-a-rant instant-books that infect the bestseller lists during election season. Romney, Mitt doesn’t even find a place in the index between Roman Empire, state executions in and Roosevelt, Franklin. This is a deeply ideological book, which accepts in toto Samuel Huntington’s thesis about the clash of the Judeo-Christian civilization against that of Islam, and attempts to put the best possible case for the future “triumph” of the former. It further contends that the clash would probably have been won by now were not the international—and specifically the American—left such a potent fifth column in Western society, undermining American values at every opportunity in ways often extremely difficult to guard against.
Prager is unrepentant about the war on terror, pointing out that only on the left do the three words routinely get placed within quotation marks. Of the charge that “Bush lied, people died,” he is rightly scathing, pointing out quite how many people took it for granted that Saddam Hussein did indeed possess weapons of mass destruction in 2003. “We cannot abandon our policy of containing Saddam Hussein,” Prager quotes the prominent CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria writing in Newsweek in October 2001. “He is building weapons of mass destruction.” As Prager puts it in is characteristically direct way: “Did Zakaria lie?” Since the answer is “of course not,” we must extend the same assumption to President George W. Bush, considering that he, too, believed what the rest of the world’s intelligence services did.
Prager believes humanity to be at a crossroads, and that our global future will be leftist, Islamist, or American. He accepts that there might be a fourth alternative, but is overly dismissive of it. “Either China will become a freer society, or it, too, will fail,” he writes. “And along with liberty, it will have to affirm values beyond material success in order to succeed as America has.” Prager refuses to contend seriously with the Chinese authoritarian-capitalism model because, as he argues, “among other factors, there is no ideology involved. Its appeal is largely restricted to would-be dictators.” Yet in fact China is expected to have an economy larger than that of the United States by the end of the present decade, and it may well be precisely because of its lack of ideology that so many countries seem to be toying with its economic model, especially as free-market capitalism has hardly proved an attractive alternative over the past half-decade.
Parts of Prager’s book read like a sermon, while section headings with bald titles such as “Murderers Must Die” do not make much of an effort to convince anyone but the converted. Still, anyone whose ox is not being gored in this well-argued and highly rational tome will find succor in its pages. Prager even offers good news about the possibilities of the pursuit of happiness in the Middle East. “No Muslim country would have to give up Islam,” he writes. “They would have to give up Islamism, the desire for Sharia-based government, but not Islam.” The view that Islam might undergo a reformation away from fundamentalism in the way that Christianity did may be the triumph of hope over experience, but hope is what Prager promises in his title, and hope—tempered by knowledge that hope is not enough—is the gift of his book.