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Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man

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From one of America's most distinguished historians comes this classic analysis of Richard Nixon. By considering some of the president's opinions, Wills comes to the controversial conclusion that Nixon was actually a liberal. Both entertaining and essential, Nixon Agonistes captures a troubled leader and a struggling nation mired in a foolish Asian war, forfeiting the loya From one of America's most distinguished historians comes this classic analysis of Richard Nixon. By considering some of the president's opinions, Wills comes to the controversial conclusion that Nixon was actually a liberal. Both entertaining and essential, Nixon Agonistes captures a troubled leader and a struggling nation mired in a foolish Asian war, forfeiting the loyalty of its youth, puzzled by its own power, and looking to its cautious president for confidence. In the end, Nixon Agonistes reaches far beyond its assessment of the thirty-seventh president to become an incisive and provocative analysis of the American political machine.


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From one of America's most distinguished historians comes this classic analysis of Richard Nixon. By considering some of the president's opinions, Wills comes to the controversial conclusion that Nixon was actually a liberal. Both entertaining and essential, Nixon Agonistes captures a troubled leader and a struggling nation mired in a foolish Asian war, forfeiting the loya From one of America's most distinguished historians comes this classic analysis of Richard Nixon. By considering some of the president's opinions, Wills comes to the controversial conclusion that Nixon was actually a liberal. Both entertaining and essential, Nixon Agonistes captures a troubled leader and a struggling nation mired in a foolish Asian war, forfeiting the loyalty of its youth, puzzled by its own power, and looking to its cautious president for confidence. In the end, Nixon Agonistes reaches far beyond its assessment of the thirty-seventh president to become an incisive and provocative analysis of the American political machine.

30 review for Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Keeten

    ”The disjointedness of the talk seemed expressed in his face as he scowled (his only expression of thoughtfulness) or grinned (his only expression of pleasure). The features do not quite work together. The famous nose looks detachable…, but the aspect that awes one when he meets Nixon is its distressing width, accentuated by the depth of the ravine running down its center, and by its general fuzziness (Nixon’s ‘five-o’clock shadow’ extends all the way up to his heavy eyebrows, though--like many ”The disjointedness of the talk seemed expressed in his face as he scowled (his only expression of thoughtfulness) or grinned (his only expression of pleasure). The features do not quite work together. The famous nose looks detachable…, but the aspect that awes one when he meets Nixon is its distressing width, accentuated by the depth of the ravine running down its center, and by its general fuzziness (Nixon’s ‘five-o’clock shadow’ extends all the way up to his heavy eyebrows, though--like many hairy men--he is balding above the brows’ ‘timberline’). The nose swings far out; then, underneath, it does not rejoin his face in a straight line, but curves far up again, leaving a large but partially screened space between nose and lip. The whole face’s lack of jointure is emphasized by the fact that he has no very defined upper lip…. The parts all seem to be worked by wires, a doomed attempt to contrive ‘illusions of grandeur.’” I can’t imagine how it must have been to work for Richard Nixon. I would be mesmerized with watching the mechanics of his face. The shadow play of conflicting emotions that would be constantly being weighed, measured, discarded, and embraced. The tamping down of crippling paranoia and the constant battle to not inflict petty vengeance; and yet, knowing exactly what he needs to do politically to be successful. It is an intimidating face, a masterpiece of originality. There is no mistaking a picture of Richard Nixon for someone else. His face shows the craters of many emotional writhings revealing for all to see the damage his own internal conflicts have inflicted on himself. He is intelligent, certainly among the most intelligent to ever hold the presidency, but also possibly the president who like the people, his constituency, the least. Nixon could grow a better beard than this by noon. After losing a close election to a man who was one of the most charismatic politicians of the century most men would have considered their political ambitions at an end. They would have grown out a beard (Al Gore), which would have taken Nixon a matter of hours, and spent some time reflecting on the extent of their defeat. They might even make a list of their triumphant enemies, but ultimately they would have, after the dust settled, embraced a sense of relief that their campaigning days are over. Not Nixon. He put himself back on Frankenstein’s table and said “hit me with the go go juice Father”. When Dick came back from the lab he just wasn’t the same. There was one story involving Nixon and Kennedy that I have never heard before, but has left a lasting impression on me. This happened right after The Bay of Pigs disaster. ”(Earl) Mazo went into Nixon’s office and found him on the phone. ‘He kept making call after call, while I waited for nearly an hour. He was calling Republican officials. Some he asked, others he begged, some he even threatened. He was telling them not to attack Kennedy on this thing. When he finally got to me, I said, ‘What is this? Here’s the perfect issue for your party. Why aren’t you using it?’ He told me, ‘I just saw a crushed man today. He needs our help. I told him to go upstairs and have a drink with his wife, and avoid making any decision until things brighten up a bit.’” Maybe it was because he coveted that position so much or maybe it was a leftover glow from the reverence he felt for his lifelong hero Woodrow Wilson or the esteem he still felt for Dwight D. Eisenhower, but in that moment he showed a nonpartisan respect for the office of the presidency that had nothing to do with the man currently filling the position. Just when you think you have a handle on the character of Nixon he reveals another part himself that adds to the mystic of the enigma. Eisenhower didn’t pick Nixon to be his running mate. He didn’t really seem to care who he ran with or even if he liked him personally or agreed with him on the issues. They make an odd pairing almost as odd as the Kennedy/Johnson ticket. Both Johnson and Nixon were on the ticket because of math, electoral college math. Nixon’s relationship with Eisenhower was complicated as people like to say about their relationship status on Facebook these days. ”For Nixon’s relationship with Eisenhower was like a Calvinist’s relation to God, or Ahab’s to the whale--awe and fascination soured with fear and desire to supplant; along with a knowledge, nonetheless, that whatever nobility one may aspire to will come from the attention of the Great One.” Nixon almost lost his chance to be on the ticket before he even had a moment to luxuriate in the possibility of being one heartbeat away from the presidency. Improprieties were raised by the press and Eisenhower told him he had one chance to square things or he was going to have to bow himself off stage. This resulted in the famous Checkers speech. That speech, which inspired a mountain of support mail for Nixon, forced Eisenhower to re-evaluate not only the political savvy of his running mate, but also the resoluteness of his character. Nixon surprised everyone not only with his sincerity, but also with his ability to be convincing. There ain’t nobody pushing me out of here before I’m ready to go. Garry Wills makes the case that there are actually four political parties in the United States. One of the many times when Wills inspired me to rethink, and reevaluate my own thoughts about the political process. ”There are two presidential parties (Democrat and Republican), which address themselves to the nation as a whole, fashioning an inclusive philosophy of government and putting it up for debate every four years. But there are also two congressional parties (Democrat and Republican) composed of disparate local types running in staggered elections on local issues. Not only does Congress hamper the President; but each congressional party, controlling as it does the day-to-day ‘grass roots’ machinery, keeps its own presidential party from living up to that high vision created when platform-drafting time comes around.” Even when Congress is of the same party as the President it is still extremely difficult in this country to achieve any comprehensive change because ultimately the agendas of the individuals, the pork for votes concept, will undermine the will of the President. Wills talks about the anti-intellectual movement in this country with most of the criticism coming from the Right. He quotes Spiro T. Agnew who served as Vice President under Nixon from 1969-1973 until an investigation for bribery, extortion, tax fraud, and conspiracy charges forced him to resign. Agnew zeroed in on his favorite demon, the Eastern Establishment, which does not represent the good folk of America, the silent majority who raise no doubts and do not question Presidents. Agnew had earlier called such types “ideological eunuchs, whose most comfortable position is straddling the philosophical fence,” men who are “effete...sniveling, hand-wringing” in their treatment of their own children, the willing victims of “an artificial and masochistic sophistication,” of an affliction “encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.” Not true Spiro. All an intellectual has to do is look it up and then he can park that bike up your you-know-where. Statements like that, which still rear their ugly heads in congressional and presidential races today, might be a reason why the Republican party still struggles to make inroads in the Northeast. Wills also wrote an intriguing statement regarding America’s involvement in foreign wars. ”All our wars are wars against wars.” It is a noble concept and there is a certain amount of truth to that statement, not that we always have been as virtuous as that line would imply. Wars have historically been about conquest or acquisition of land or in some cases, the Crusades being a perfect example, over religion. America did not go to war in Europe and come away with France as part of their plunder or carry away the oil from Iraq or the opium crop from Afghanistan. Our reasons are sometimes nonsensical for why we have found ourselves involved in these places, but at the end of the day, maybe because we want to be seen as the good guys, we don’t exploit our military success(?) to the extent that powers have in the past. Wills makes another interesting point in regard to Wilson’s Mexican policy during 1916 when America was trying to chase down Pancho Villa. ”The fact that he was put in office by an electoral-college majority does not make his actions America’s actions. An election cannot establish a unitary National Will. The belief that it does so leads to the belief that the Nation is deciding whatever Richard Nixon decides should be done, with American bombs and American lives, in Vietnam. Yet even if a President could embody a unanimous National Will--even if we grant that impossible hypothesis--what right does a Wilson or a Nixon have to impose that will on another country? If Wilson had embodied the National Will of America, he obviously was not the embodiment of Mexico’s will, any more than Nixon can embody the will of South Vietnam.” Garry Wills I’ve got pages and pages of notes from reading this book. Garry Wills has a beautiful mind. He is insightful, precise, and philosophically thoughtful. This book was published in 1969 so well before Nixon became a self-fulfilling prophet of his paranoia. I thought the book was even handed and much more concerned with putting aside party affiliation to look at the cause and effect of presidential decisions. Wills also examined Nixon’s opponents in his own party and those across the aisle creating these wonderful portraits of the movers and shakers of the late 1960s. I must say this book is probably not for the reader with a casual interest in these events. This book is better suited for presidential junkies, researchers, and the slightly insane, but still I hate to steer anybody away from such wonderful prose. If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten

  2. 5 out of 5

    Szplug

    Originally assigned by Esquire magazine to cover the late stages of the 1968 presidential election from the vantage point of the Nixon campaign, featuring that political warhorse and his energetic team of legal associates and young fireballers, Garry Wills—under the prodding of his editor—turned a ruminative essay upon Tricky Dick into six hundred pages of analysis, diagnosis, deduction, induction, and reflection upon the state of the American national soul at the closing-out point of that tumul Originally assigned by Esquire magazine to cover the late stages of the 1968 presidential election from the vantage point of the Nixon campaign, featuring that political warhorse and his energetic team of legal associates and young fireballers, Garry Wills—under the prodding of his editor—turned a ruminative essay upon Tricky Dick into six hundred pages of analysis, diagnosis, deduction, induction, and reflection upon the state of the American national soul at the closing-out point of that tumultuous decade. It's an absolutely remarkable performance—character portraits of the primary players involved in the party nominating conventions and electoral races of the fifties and sixties, the period in which Nixon pursued the political career that seemingly brought him so much in the way of humiliation, anguish, devastation, and setback as compared to the fleeting joys and ephemeral exposures to power and influence, are offered up for dual exposure: that of the personalities involved and how they participated in what ofttimes appeared to be an unseemly charade, and that of their connexion to an American ethos that was deemed to be splintering at the seams and in danger of falling apart. Through it all Wills offers up his assessment of that ethos as part of the market structure that permeated the entirety of the classical liberal edifice that upheld and enclosed the country during its comparatively brief but burgeoning lifespan—markets in the moral, economic, intellectual, and political spheres that had long been working their contradiction-laden memes upon the process such that the election of Nixon could be viewed as the apotheosis of a system that, having thus achieved its ebb tide endpoint, was in desperate need of an injection of reform and restructuring. Astoundingly good by every measure: content, form, wit, depth, style, persuasiveness, coherence—and one of those tomes which, in my estimation, deserves to be read by as broad a segment of the American public as possible, in order that they might ingest the counter-intuitive, thought-provoking, and enduringly relevant themes worked out, at length, by the author, and (re)assess how the country has come to take on its disturbingly, nigh despairingly pretzel-like form in the early stages of the twenty-first century. I had originally intended to make this book the followup to Rick Perlstein's Nixonland , based upon GRer AC's accurate positioning of the former as a superior tome to the latter, and hence better serving as a depth-provisioner to Perlstein's more broadly-based cultural-historical effort; and it is indeed the case the Wills paints a much more effective and detailed portrait of Nixon, an introvert in an extrovert's occupation enduring the loneliness of the long distance runner. It is also the case that Wills' logically drawn determination of the causation of and correlation between the strains of resentment bubbling below the surface of late-sixties America—from all corners and comers—is endowed with an inductive rigor and tiered process of intellectualization that withstands probing scrutiny better than Perlstein's more casually constructed polemics; and notwithstanding the (acknowledged) debt that Perlstein has to Wills in how he crafted the historic chain of American political evolution, the latter—in his linkage from the Founding Fathers through to the pivotal political philosophy of Woodrow Wilson and the bifurcation of the classical liberal spirit in the wake of the Great Depression via the instantiation of the New Deal—proffers an original take that is simply the better thought-out, constructed, and elucidated of the two. It's a closer match as regards the entertainment value contained in each, but even here Wills compares favorably with Perlstein—indeed, the dry and ironical tone with which Wills picks apart the latent absurdities within events, actions, words spoken or written, opining advanced or relegated, that transpired during the course of the political campaigns and backgrounds that are given coverage within, is deftly and wittily done—the pages flew by, which wasn't always the case with Nixonland. Another interesting connexion was presented in the similarities that I found in analytic avenues and market-moire discernment between Nixon Agonistes and the latest publication from Walter Russell Mead, the lamentably underrated and under-read God and Gold . In especial, both of these tomes viewed the twentieth century growths of liberal capitalist democracies via the prisms of the morality inherent within the foundational philosophies that underlay the entirety, moralities that stressed not only the equality of the citizen contenders within the nationality, but, perhaps even more so, the cherished individuality of each and the spirit of striving on one's own—a striving fully underwritten by the protestant theology that served as religious spinal cord—which was the integral component of that personal freedom within a constituted community. While both acknowledged the contradictions that also inhered within, ofttimes unnoticed, it was that moral element which stood as the centerpiece from which the other market constituents—the political, the intellectual, the economic—were ultimately derived. It is with this Moral Market that Wills opens the book, segueing from his Esquire essay into a determination, by means of Richard Nixon's political career, of the centrality of the self-made man as an archetype of the American citizen. This is an Emersonian self-reliance, in which past defeats, setbacks, suffering is all of a purpose in forging one's current individuated self. One neither can nor should rely upon assistance or aide from anything or anyone beyond the self—we must earn our place at the table-setting of success. The homily that Anyone can succeed is matched in fervor and integrality with that which states you cannot get something for nothing; in this way, one betters oneself through hard work, sacrifice, and copious amounts of sweat; the end result being the reward of being able to provide more and better opportunities for one's children, while contributing to the pool of self-made individuals that comprise the grand success that is the American experiment. In Wills' determination, the mythological model of this self-reliance opening the doors to success via perduring struggle and determined effort is Horatio Alger; the existent one, none other than Richard Nixon, who exemplified the rags to riches theme that powered Alger's fictive works—and modest riches at that, at least as compared to today's standard of political remuneration for favors provided—in a way that resonated with the so-called Silent Majority, Americans who had committed to the Alger method whole-heartedly and were stunned to discover, in their children and the black minority, scorn and contempt for their work ethic wedded to a continuous demand for a larger share of the pie—a share that, in their estimation, could only come from an equally scornful and, worse, condescending Eastern elite taking that majority's hard earned money and doling it out, and in the process turning the truism of not getting something for nothing on its head. But Wills, in working through this Moral Market, concludes that it is, particularly in the twentieth century, a charade: nobody makes it on their own; indeed, that very Silent Majority had risen through inherent advantages and privileges, from governmental legislation and intervention, business favoring and protection, communal aide and support, exploitation of the disadvantaged and the underclass, and increasingly used it to hedge themselves off from any risk or challenge. The rage and resentment came as much from an understanding of this reality, one which, if admitted inside, would shatter the moral foundations that the myth of the earner required in order to perdure. Deeming themselves the heroes of the American dream, Wills portrays them as of a kin with Nixon: diminished, curdled, nursing grudges and resentments and perceived injuries, an oppressed majority held down by the very stringency of their striving ethos. The Economic Market is delineated by means of a truly entertaining sequence of chapters focussing upon the Republican National Convention of 1968. As with its moral sibling, the economic market is one that encompasses a nation of earners ever in motion—running the race of competition, working, striving, seeking every advantage and taking advantage of every opportunity. As opposed to the Old World conflict between a landed aristocracy and wage-bound working class, the United States provided a dynamic, proclaimedly level playing field where every agent—an agent of the self, naturally—was in motion, sometimes being herded into a renewed and rejigged starting line so that a greater measure of equality might be injected into the race itself, but still powering forward under the propulsion achieved through one's efforts and willpower. But Wills shows a race with no end, merely a continuously unfolding track ever beckoning one on, unto exhaustion. In his calculation, the primary differences between the Left and Right in the United States, as versus that which had arisen in Europe, was that there was no vision of economic reform that deviated from this need for dynamic motion upon a competitive track. Attempts to craft some measure of stability to the platform, to achieve communal support and interdependence, was scorned as the gambits of the lazy or timid or unwilling; and this also meant that any work geared towards fostering such stabilities or alterations to the pattern of competitive striving was held in disregard as well. As the author saw it, there was little honor and even less coherence in such a frenzied pace of perpetual motion—no way to ever pause and take stock of where the country was at, what cracks were showing in the edifice, and what parts of this hollow, hying boast echoing forth from a mythological past might best be discarded or emended in order to address the current realities. It is within the Intellectual Market of the academic world that Wills really gripped my attention and pulled me into the current of his reasoned thought. In the United States, academia displays the same adherence to Liberal ideals that permeates the markets moral and economic: the upholding of a free exchange of ideas, expressed via free speech and determined within a value-neutral environment in which the emergent champion will be that ideation which overcomes it challengers by means of its expressive rigor and logical strengths—a case of an invisible hand of the mind at work, self-regulating and advocating for the best of the mind's product. Yet Wills sees an intellectual system as riddled with contradictions and incoherencies as its siblings outlined above—for the American intellectual market abhors and refuses to countenance any beliefs or ideas that tend to the absolute, to a universality of truth, to systemic completeness, and hence pre-judges them as untenable ideologies. In this, the academic world acts as a judge upon the exchange of ideas, neutralizing any that will not admit to being value-free. What's more, the academic market is a propagator of an aristocratic mindset and a receiver of government funding that it uses in order to advance political agendas and furnish a continuous supply of minds designed for employment within the government and government-contracted industries, such as the massive military-industrial complex. But there is also conflict between the academic and political worlds, expressed through the former's adherence to freedom as a positive value, which leads to the exclusion of such as exclusionary religions or philosophies, and a tendency to bypass the production of an enlightened citizenry in order to directly gain the politician's ear. As Wills sees it, this lack of responsibility for its own failings and flaws was the primary impetus for the campus uprisings of the late sixties, which the universities attempted to counter with an even broader application of its contradictory Liberal mores. The academic market is blind to the fact that it has crafted an orthodoxy through its own preferential advocacy and lack of intellectual honesty—and hence that the ideals that it believes to have been determined to be the best by the invisible hand were done so through the firm guidance provided to that incorporeal extremity. And the goods just keep on coming, as Wills saves his best for last. The analysis of the Political Market is just brilliantly executed, impossible to do any measure of justice without its entirety being ingested—but the key element is that from the Liberal devotion to the self-made man springs the same compulsion to champion the self-determination of nations, as a freely-elected government, preferably operating within the free enterprise system, serves as an enduringly effective check upon despotism whilst harnessing that same self-made striving through applied effort and will found in devolved form within the average citizen: witness the United States as Exhibit A. Unfortunately, such self-determination, a theme stridently promoted by Woodrow Wilson as part of the Fourteen Points he brought to the Peace Conference held in the aftermath of the Great War, presents a series of problematic barriers against its implementation. In a masterful deconstruction, Wills wends through the various elements that would comprise how a particular people might determine themselves as deserving of their own state of nationhood, highlighting the perennial problems inherent to the process: what is to be the conclusive factor? Language? Ethnicity? Religion? Numbers? Current mood? Former territorial status or partition? Historic state constitution? Furthermore, Wills works through the United States' history in dealing with self-determined nations effecting an (enforced) democratic system—Mexico under Wilson; Latin America under Eisenhower; Vietnam under Kennedy and Johnson—to show how the preference, from the point-of-view of the United States, or indeed any First World state, is for dealing with an authoritative personality through whom their wishes might readily be channeled and implemented; and, hence, that despots best serve the United States' interests. This preference for strongmen works in tandem with the puritanical elements operating within the perceived benevolence endemic to American promotions of freedom abroad, and which accounts for the comparative ease and rationalized acceptance of the use of force in implementing democratic ideals and determined sovereignty. As Wills pithily puts it: It is when America is in her most altruistic mood that other nations better get behind their bunkers. That authoritarian strain is something Wills detects as existing within the United States' citizenry from the very beginning, an obedience to authority—whether scriptural, political, communal, cultural, or familial—that abrades against the freedom championed as the engine of the various markets that make-up the national character. And this very freedom—being what Americans deemed to set them above realms not so constituted, the source of the fuel that empowered the self-made man, the earner, the runner, the idea advocate, the self-determined realm—was severely called into question by the time of Vietnam: for not only were the elections that Americans were championing, and dying for, in Southeast Asia failing in the face of conflict, but those that took place at home produced no better an executive entity than Richard Nixon, a man who inspired little enthusiasm and had risen from the ashes of successive political failures at the opening of the decade. And so we arrive back at Nixon. He is, properly, the central locus of the book, the figure, so ill at ease with his chosen profession, whose unwavering devotion to all of the tenets that constitute the various Liberal markets brought under the authorial microscope marked him as the ideal representative of the resentment-bound self-made man that formed the Silent Majority and made the rise of a slick and crafty rabble-rouser like Wallace possible; made him the perfect representative with which to diminish the occupancy of the White House and starkly limn the problems endemic to the American conception of Liberalism heading into the latter stages of the twentieth century. I felt that Wills nailed down far more of the inner makeup of Nixon, what made this tormented but undeniably brilliant man tick, than Perlstein managed in far more pages; in particular, the chapter on the infamous Checkers Speech is just perfectly done—highlighting Nixon's courage, political instincts, hard work, and aggressiveness in pursuit of his ambition in perfect balance with his continuous humiliation, belittling slights from the elite classes, shiftiness and abject kowtowing to those same forces in the name of that same ambition. It is impossible to read Nixon Agonistes—an exquisitely apt title, that—without a sense of sympathy and understanding for that man, indeed for all introverts and grinders who must endure much suffering, many slings and arrows on the course of the racetrack the country demands that they run. He was never a particularly bad man, but rather one whose hard and lengthy road to the top must perforce have seared the very soul that such gains were not achieved as something for nothing—and, in the process, curdled that spirit with the gnomic deformations of resentment, rage, bitterness, and paranoia at what was demanded of one both by the silver spoon Franklins looking down upon you from above and the minorities and underclass scrabbling up desperately and insolently from below. Other characters are also given superb depictions, particularly Eisenhower's qualities as a politician and cautious president; Spiro Agnew as Nixon's point-man and kindred spirit on the domestic law and order platform in the face of riot and demonstration run rampant among young and black America; and Woodrow Wilson as the prototypical puritanical Liberal monger-of-modalities, Nixon's inspiration and model for what a president might and should achieve in the global marketplace of (arms-implemented) ideas. As Wills saw it, the classical liberal spirit of the US had been rent in twain in the aftermath of the Great Depression, with the free marketeers, combined with the authoritarians and religious fundamentalists, striving for an absolute individualism amongst the running earners as set against the progressive, socialist, and democratic strains that opted for tight social cohesion and rejigging of the race's starting line—but even this split evinced traits of their opposing side as part of the living contradiction that was the American Liberal system. As GRer AC also noted, Wills' discerned trending for a renewal and reworking of Liberalism's failures proved to be ridiculously optimistic; but, as has often been the case in books such as these, if his remedy is rather inordinately Panglossian and casually implied, his diagnosis of the problem is first rate, in every aspect. It amazes me how much a perceptive mind could induce about America from the unattractive character traits of one of its least-heralded twentieth century presidents—that this very contender would prove such a symbolic exemplar of the class writhing under the whiplash of demanded and unfolding changes. Tricky Dick, then, was America: and that's as alarming as it is astounding.

  3. 5 out of 5

    AC

    I had to put this book down for several months - because I had to digest certain arguments (especially in Part IV) -- that went against long-standing views of mine, but are so brilliantly argued, that I simply couldn't go on until they had been simmered, stewed, and thoroughly digested. Wills is one of the most intelligent, brilliant, sheerly logical writers I have read in a long time -- his classical and Jesuitical training evident on every page. As such, this book is utterly compelling. His th I had to put this book down for several months - because I had to digest certain arguments (especially in Part IV) -- that went against long-standing views of mine, but are so brilliantly argued, that I simply couldn't go on until they had been simmered, stewed, and thoroughly digested. Wills is one of the most intelligent, brilliant, sheerly logical writers I have read in a long time -- his classical and Jesuitical training evident on every page. As such, this book is utterly compelling. His thesis, as also the structure of the book, is, however, complex - and not presented all at once -- he proceeds inductively (as a good writer should) - and instead of telling you "I think X", now let me rummage around the attic to find some evidence that confirms that -- the method my students are taught to follow (to my constant complaining) - he dives into the swirl of American political life in search of its living currents. It really is a remarkable book. His grand thesis is that America is built on a type of classical liberalism (small-l) that included two distinct components: the ruthless social darwinism of the survival of the economic fittest; and the puritan view of business and capitalism as morally uplifting -- that is, free market liberalism and an ameliorative view of capitalism (which allows some room for the State). This type of liberalism was found in the views of both parties up until the 1920's - both in Wilson and in Hoover (TR's view was quite distinct). But under the pressure of the Great Depression, these two views split apart, one going to the Republicans, and one going to the Democrats. The half that went to the Republicans (laissez-faire) linked up with the authoritarian troglodytes of the JBS, southern whites, the religious loons (hence, the alliance of Milton Friendman with the loons and racists who rallied behind Barry Goldwater). The ameliorative part that went to the Democrats, did not become socialistic because the Dems retained their liberal (laissez-faire) attitude towards academia (free thought, freedom of dissent) and politics (decentralization). Nixon is (Wills wrote in 1969) misunderstood -- because he is being viewed through the lens of this Post-Depression "split". In fact, Nixon is a return to the classic liberalism of Woodrow Wilson and Hoover -- (much the the material Wills collects about Wilson, and about Nixon's admiration for Wilson is really persuasive and hard to gainsay). The problem is.... Wills continues.... that classical liberalism is essentially dead --. He (Wills) offers a skewering of its logical foundations (I've quoted one long passage in the comments section, though that is only a part of it) -- and because the complexity of modern society with its enforced interdependencies have rendered it really an anachronism. Thus, Nixon is the "last liberal". The second problem is that Nixon himself is basically a slug -- which reveals the weakness in liberalism -- that this was the best man that the tradition of Adam Smith and Carnegie and Woodrow Willson and Hoover could come up with..., speaks volumes. (Wills). What we need, instead, according to Wills, is to join the great accomplishments of liberalism (freedom, respect for others), with a more communitarian ethic. Thus Wills ends on a forward-looking, optimistic note -- that looks quite ridiculous today (July 2011). Some comments: First, Wills spends a long section (Part IV) dissecting -- nay, skewering -- Wilson's "liberal" foreign policy -- willing to kill 'darkies' (Mexicans; thinking Vietnamese) in the name of moral improvement -- burning the village, in order to save it -- that is really overwhelming. What gives this passage a special resonance is the memory of how the Neoconservatives used Wilsonianism to justify their adventure in Iraq. To my mind, this was always a sham; the Neoconservatives are Straussians, not Wilsonians - and only an addled Washington Press corp ("silent assassins of the republic", in Mailer's great phrase) could ever have bought that line of crap that was shoveled to them. But if it HAD been true, then even more should the Public have read Wills' scathing critique of it before engaging in what has proved to be a military and geopolitical and economic and national blunder of a proportion which we cannot yet assess with any fullness. Secondly, his account of the 'synthesis' of the American Right -- as merely a product of liberalism's opportunistic alliance with the religious and authoritarian Right -- doesn't do justice to the unity of that synthesis... as we can see today. As I've posted a LOT on this topic in my reviews of other books, I'll pass over this here. Finally - his view of Nixon as the 'last liberal' (largely in the classic sense, remember) -- he even compares him to Churchill at one point! -- could not have been written in 1974 -- by which point the whirlwind of events -- Vietnam, dissent, revolution, riots, oil shock, financial crises (two bear markets), impeachment -- simply showed that Nixon, beneath the 'liberal' surface, was (in his domestic politics, at least) merely a thug, a crook, and willing to coddle to reactionaries.... Wills got it wrong. The book, therefore, is a failure. But a stunningly brilliant failure from which I have learned an enormous amount. What follows is my original review, posted long before I finished this book - and there is some worthwhile material also in the comments sections. [Original partial review: (This is only a stump of a review -- but it contains ideas that are, imo, important, and that I wanted to get down in writing. I'll add to the review if anything strikes me as I finish the book. Needless to say, I think this is a spectacular book, and that everyone should have a look at it.) Why is Obama so weak…? Why was the Liberal, Democratic establishment of the 1960's so fatally intertwined with the Military-Industrial complex that it basically wrecked this country with the debacle of the Vietnam War (from which we have yet fully to recover)….? Why did Friedrich Ebert (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friedric...) call out the proto-fascist Frei Korps to suppress, and brutally, a revolution in 1919 from… the Left -- thereby paving the way for Hitlerism? Why was Giovanni Giolitti and his method of "trasformiso" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trasform...) so fundamentally corrupt, that it destroyed Liberal Italy and paved the way for the March on Rome…? -- In other words, what's wrong with liberals? Among other things, Wills takes a scalpel to liberalism, and his dissection leads him to the following conclusion: Liberals, at bottom, are afraid of systematic thought (says Wills) -- for systematic thought has 'absolutist' tendencies. That is, given a system (if a system be accepted), certain ideas are ipso facto ruled out of court. One must judge certain ideas to be irrefutably true, and others to be irredeemably false. But liberalism is uneasy with any 'absolutist' claims to truth. It prefers to remain 'open' to all possibilities. It is pragmatic (in the Jamesian sense). There are, of course, primarily moral reasons for this -- for even Schlesinger admits that Pragmatism (like *every* philosophy) itself rests on certain metaphysical assumptions, -- that is, on certain irreducibles. Any philosophy that wishes at bottom (and at whatever cost) to remain 'open' to ALL possibilities ( -- and indeed, this ALL…, in all consistency…, includes not only NEW possibilities, but contrary or contradictory possibilities -- the only ultimate truth being that there is no ultimate truth….) -- cannot ultimately confront an intransigent absolutism. It MUST be accommodative. And hence, it is doomed…. The students of 1968 understood this -- at some level, anyway. As such, liberalism was confronted both by reactionaries on the Right AND by radicals on the Left, and so didn't have a prayer…. Clearly -- a similar dynamic is starting to play out today in the Democratic Establishment -- the party of Obama, Reid and their ilk (save, of course, for the fact that there is no radical left -- with the result that they are being squeezed simply between the Right and a Wall). Still, looking at these men, men like Giolitti and Ebert would sympathize and understand….

  4. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... “Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man” by Garry Wills was published in 1970, about a year after Nixon’s inauguration as president. Wills is a journalist, former professor of history and classics and a prolific author. His book “Lincoln at Gettysburg” won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and his most recent book “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why it Matters” was published in 2017. Evident by its publication date, “Nixon Agonistes” is https://bestpresidentialbios.com/2018... “Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man” by Garry Wills was published in 1970, about a year after Nixon’s inauguration as president. Wills is a journalist, former professor of history and classics and a prolific author. His book “Lincoln at Gettysburg” won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction and his most recent book “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why it Matters” was published in 2017. Evident by its publication date, “Nixon Agonistes” is not a comprehensive biography. And obvious during its earliest pages is that it is not a biography at all. But exactly what it is proves difficult to explain. Its 546 pages are organized into five major sections which eventually yield the author’s overarching thesis: that America is essentially liberal at its core. But Wills argues that classic liberalism is dead and Richard Nixon is the political heir to whatever remains of its ideals. And while Nixon is never the primary subject of the book, he is always at its center. America’s political life is really under the microscope but Nixon is the glue Wills uses to bind everything together. Although this book spends a great deal of time analyzing political, social and cultural trends, it also carefully observes the most important political and cultural figures of Nixon’s era. Wills is an incredibly astute observer and a gifted literary artist. His character portraits – covering subjects such as Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Strom Thurmond, George Romney, George Wallace, Spiro Agnew and Richard Goodwin – are crisp, witty and often biting. More generally, Wills’s writing style is erudite and complex, clever, sometimes baffling and often brilliant. It feels a bit like the literary convergence of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Tom Wolfe and Timothy Leary. Like most “deep” writing of substantial value, this book is not geared toward neophytes. Anyone new to Nixon – or political philosophy – will spend an inordinate amount of time wondering what is being discussed. In addition, this book is often cumbersome and unwieldy. The author frequently bounces between discrete moments in Nixon’s political life (most of them occurring during his presidential campaign of 1968), highbrow philosophical discussions and digressions into Nixon’s early life. And at various times the book seems to serve different functions: history text, biography, political science treatise and political philosophy thesis. But even readers who are expecting traditional coverage of Nixon’s life and times – and who are able to persevere to the end – will uncover countless pearls of wisdom and insightful nuggets. I discovered (and recorded for later consumption) more incredibly penetrating, shrewd and memorable one-liners in this book than in perhaps anything I’ve read over the past five years. These treasures alone made this book worth the effort. Overall, Garry Will’s “Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man” is far less about Nixon than the political and social culture in which he operated. Published five years before his presidency ended, this book is an unusual confluence of historical observations and intellectual reflections. Readers familiar with Nixon and his era who also possess an interest in political philosophy will find it enormously rewarding. Others may simply find it difficult to finish. Overall rating: “Unrated” as a biography

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    This is a rather remarkable book. I've read several, more recent books by Wills, but nothing quite like this. One presumes from the style of his writing--dense, sometimes almost lyrical--that he spent a great deal of time stitching together and revising the original National Review, Esquire, New Politics and Saturday Evening Post articles into this subtle analysis of American political culture. This is not really a biography of Richard Nixon, though it does have many elements of biography, includ This is a rather remarkable book. I've read several, more recent books by Wills, but nothing quite like this. One presumes from the style of his writing--dense, sometimes almost lyrical--that he spent a great deal of time stitching together and revising the original National Review, Esquire, New Politics and Saturday Evening Post articles into this subtle analysis of American political culture. This is not really a biography of Richard Nixon, though it does have many elements of biography, including visits to Whittier, California and interviews with friends of the Nixon family. The focus, however, is on Nixon, the "new" Nixon during the 1968 presidential campaign, the one he won, albeit with many retrospective reflections back to the Hiss case, the 1960 campaign, the 1962 gubenatorial campaign, etc. However, there are also minibiographies here as well, biographies of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Richard N. Goodwin and others. All of these biographies are chosen as representative of a broader theme, namely, the nature of "liberalism" in American during the second half of the twentieth century. In fact, the book may be looked at as being primarily a meditation on this, the prevailing ideology of the period, and on why and how liberalism fractured in stresses of U.S. imperialism abroad (SE Asia) and the struggle for racial equality at home. This is early Wills, but he is no longer the conservative follower of William Buckley, no longer the National Review writer. His sympathies by the late sixties had turned, turned sympathetically towards the Civil Rights movement, antipathetically against the war in Vietnam. There is even a hint of identification with the "New Left" as a movement, inchoate at times, in opposition to and differentiated from an "Establishment" or "System" in crisis. For anyone interested in a thoughtful study of what the term "liberal" has come to mean in this country in its interconnected philosophical, political, economic and cultural senses, this is a good introduction. So too for anyone wanting a sense of the sixties and of how that decade realigned American politics.

  6. 4 out of 5

    James

    Wills convincingly argues for the view that Nixon was really a liberal in the modern political sense. His approach to Nixon, based on this premise, is both enlightening and intelligent. Richard Nixon was certainly a national enigma, our president of polarization--I personally saw that happen in my family. Considering the policies initiated by Nixon; for example, going off the gold standard, expanding major government programs like the EPA, and opening ties to Red China, the view of Nixon as a li Wills convincingly argues for the view that Nixon was really a liberal in the modern political sense. His approach to Nixon, based on this premise, is both enlightening and intelligent. Richard Nixon was certainly a national enigma, our president of polarization--I personally saw that happen in my family. Considering the policies initiated by Nixon; for example, going off the gold standard, expanding major government programs like the EPA, and opening ties to Red China, the view of Nixon as a liberal is not unreasonable. Wills absolutely nailed Nixon's character, and not unsympathetically. He noted, for instance, that Nixon revered Woodrow Wilson, the only Democrat whose picture hung in Nixon's oval office. Although Nixon was "not a convincing moralist," Wills explained, he was nonetheless (like Wilson) a moralist by conviction: "He does not woo the Forgotten American cynically; he agrees with the silent majority." The result is an unbiased portrait that has the virtue of avoiding some of the excesses of Nixon's many detractors. Combined with his always excellent prose this book is one of Wills' best and in my experience one of the best analyses of Richard Nixon.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bob Wake

    I struggled finishing Gary Wills’ Nixon Agonistes, but finish it I did. The book’s first half comprising on-site 1968 convention reporting from Miami and Chicago is superb, as sharp and funny as Norman Mailer or Hunter Thompson at their best. The second half of Nixon Agonistes is a series of thinkpieces on the decline of American liberalism written in the bloviating manner of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman at their worst. Wills discussed a few book titles I haven’t read but am interested in che I struggled finishing Gary Wills’ Nixon Agonistes, but finish it I did. The book’s first half comprising on-site 1968 convention reporting from Miami and Chicago is superb, as sharp and funny as Norman Mailer or Hunter Thompson at their best. The second half of Nixon Agonistes is a series of thinkpieces on the decline of American liberalism written in the bloviating manner of David Brooks or Thomas Friedman at their worst. Wills discussed a few book titles I haven’t read but am interested in checking out: Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1964) by Richard Hofstadter; The End of Ideology (1960) by Daniel Bell; and The Vital Center (1949) by Arthur Schlesinger.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    This may well be the ultimate book on Nixon and his rise to power. However, I shan't pass judgment until I've read his autobiographical, Six Crises. While Perlstein's Nixonland is an insightful overview of the historical milieu that gave rise to Nixon, Wills' book explores not only the historical events that landed this self-made man in the White House, but the waves of American philosophical thought that lead to his rise. To put it more succinctly, Perlstein's book is an appetizer to Wills' mai This may well be the ultimate book on Nixon and his rise to power. However, I shan't pass judgment until I've read his autobiographical, Six Crises. While Perlstein's Nixonland is an insightful overview of the historical milieu that gave rise to Nixon, Wills' book explores not only the historical events that landed this self-made man in the White House, but the waves of American philosophical thought that lead to his rise. To put it more succinctly, Perlstein's book is an appetizer to Wills' main course. I highly recommend that the books be read in succession. Per Wills, the long march to Nixon began at the turn of the 20th century as Woodrow Wilson and a succession of free market thinkers ratcheted up the liberal -- yes, I said liberal -- philosophy of individualism that gave rise to the robber barons of the previous century. It was a mode of thought that guided not only the economic life of the country, but its spiritual as well, making work and enterprise a religious endeavor. Morality could be measured by material success. Virtue lead to hard work which lead to success which lead to material wealth, rendering a man's inner morality visible. It was a very simple mantra, as Wills points out many times, straight out of Horatio Alger. Indeed, the rise of Nixon may well have been the last gasp of that mantra before its collapse into a coma where it has remained for some 40 years, twitching from time to time (Reagan, Gingrich, Tea Party), but never truly awakening before being knocked cold again by another damn recession. The lid came off the middle class in the '60s, and Nixon was the silent majority's answer to putting it back on. We all know where that lid wound up, even though Wills, while writing the book, did not. Formerly invisible factions - blacks, women, college students -- were now visible, and the white working class were appalled at having their mores challenged in the streets by "non-earners." In 1968, George Wallace came along, and had his rather vocal following (is it me or is Ron Paul our modern day George Wallace?), scaring the bejesus out the GOP establishment who were afraid the Democrat/3rd Party man could swipe a good chunk of their base. Nixon, despite having a loser label on his head, having lost the 1960 Presidential race and the California Governor's race 2 years later ("You won't have Dick Nixon to kick around any more," he told a flock of reporters who had dogged him throughout the latter campaign), Nixon swooped-in to take the nomination in Miami from Nelson Rockefeller, Ronald Reagan, and George Romney. He and Agnew went to DC promising law and order, uh, for everyone else anyway. How could such a straight and narrow Quaker (he formed a club at Whittier College called the Orthogonian, or Right Angles), go off the rails the way he did. Wills gives some pretty strong clues in this book. Hint- it was not just Nixon that got us that point, but the nation as a whole.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Mel

    This book earned Wills a listing on Nixon's famous enemies list because of statements like "The belief that our electoral system guarantees the choice of the best men and policies can only give voters a sense that the whole operation is a mockery when Richard Nixon is freely chosen to preside". Overall, Wills treatment of Nixon is fairly balanced. I actually felt sorry for the misery Ike put Tricky Dick through before Nixon's 1952 Checker's Speech. Some reviewers make the point that Wills postul This book earned Wills a listing on Nixon's famous enemies list because of statements like "The belief that our electoral system guarantees the choice of the best men and policies can only give voters a sense that the whole operation is a mockery when Richard Nixon is freely chosen to preside". Overall, Wills treatment of Nixon is fairly balanced. I actually felt sorry for the misery Ike put Tricky Dick through before Nixon's 1952 Checker's Speech. Some reviewers make the point that Wills postulates in the final chapter that Nixon was actually a Liberal. Some even point to Nixon's leaving the gold standard, strenthening the EPA, and his rapprochement with Red China as proving the point. Unfortunately, all of these initiatives occurred after this book was written. However, throughout the book Wills made some curious definitions of Liberalism and Conservatism (or so it seemed to me). In his world, Liberals includes Jeffersonians, the self-diciplined self-made man, entrepreneurial businessmen, and individualists. Conservatives are defined as Hamiltonians and labor unions leaders. Were those labels defined that differently in 1970? I was a senior at UCal at the time and it sounds like Jabberwocky to me. The portions I mostly enjoyed were the insights into the primaries and general presidential election of 1968. Wills was on the campaign trail with the candidates most if not all of the time and writes from and insider's perspective. A national election is a brutal process and it is a wonder (and an enlightenment) that any candidate would want to submit to it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    David Corleto-Bales

    Written back when political commentary had more of an academic/elitist bent, Garry Wills explores the life and career of Richard M. Nixon from the lemon ranches of southern California to the White House. Published in 1970, Wills writes of the poisoned America of 1968, of LBJ's Vietnam War and how it disillusioned the public and how the cooly efficient political machine of Nixon is able to resurrect his dreams and emerge from a Republican pack of eager politicians that included Nelson Rockefeller Written back when political commentary had more of an academic/elitist bent, Garry Wills explores the life and career of Richard M. Nixon from the lemon ranches of southern California to the White House. Published in 1970, Wills writes of the poisoned America of 1968, of LBJ's Vietnam War and how it disillusioned the public and how the cooly efficient political machine of Nixon is able to resurrect his dreams and emerge from a Republican pack of eager politicians that included Nelson Rockefeller, George Romney and Ronald Reagan. Wills concluded over 40 years ago that Nixon was really a liberal at heart, and had little in common with the Birchers and Goldwaterites. Whatever the case, his commentary got him on Nixon's enemies list. There are the occasional flashes of the deep resentment that Nixon carried with him from his youth and as vice president, with some detail about Ike's disdain for him, (that clearly made Nixon the paranoid wreck he was as president.) A rambling book, but very interesting. Wills spends a lot of time on Nixon's life up to his 1968 run and covers other candidates, too, like Agnew and the George Wallace campaign.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Al Maki

    I would recommend this book because Nixon is an important historical figure: he took the US off the gold standard, he opened relations with China, he withdrew from the Vietnam war and he invented the war on drugs. These acts still influence the US profoundly 40 years later. But even more because Nixon pioneered the use of polarization in modern electoral politics, a phenomenon that is still sticking like a spear out of the body politic 50 years later. But mostly because Wills is a great writer a I would recommend this book because Nixon is an important historical figure: he took the US off the gold standard, he opened relations with China, he withdrew from the Vietnam war and he invented the war on drugs. These acts still influence the US profoundly 40 years later. But even more because Nixon pioneered the use of polarization in modern electoral politics, a phenomenon that is still sticking like a spear out of the body politic 50 years later. But mostly because Wills is a great writer and a deep thinker and he uses Nixon as a lens to examine the values and philosophy that shaped modern American society.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dan Cohen

    Good book - very thought-provoking. I found it gave me some new insights (albeit fuzzy ones - hard to pin down) into American politics and social thought that is hard to pick up from more conventional sources. For example, the distinction between the Presidential and non-Presidential parts of the political parties. In a sense, it's not really about Nixon at all but about ways of thinking. Some sections (eg. on the nature of liberalism) were fairly hard work.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Thiessen

    Maybe the best book I've ever read? It's certainly up there. An incredibly great insight into the most savage president ever sworn in, and makes some really tremendous arguments in terms of how his policies would be placed today.

  14. 5 out of 5

    veronian

    This was a real doorstopper and a dead weight on my Currently Reading shelf throughout 2018. At last, I have finished Nixon Agonistes, the famous Nixon book (written in 1970, pre-Watergate) proposing that Nixon was actually a liberal. What I expected: *A biography of Nixon, the "self-made man" described in the book title. *Some diving into Nixon's policies, way of thinking, etc. *Coverage of Nixon as Eisenhower's VP, his loss to Kennedy in 1960, boucing back to win the 1968 presidential election, wh This was a real doorstopper and a dead weight on my Currently Reading shelf throughout 2018. At last, I have finished Nixon Agonistes, the famous Nixon book (written in 1970, pre-Watergate) proposing that Nixon was actually a liberal. What I expected: *A biography of Nixon, the "self-made man" described in the book title. *Some diving into Nixon's policies, way of thinking, etc. *Coverage of Nixon as Eisenhower's VP, his loss to Kennedy in 1960, boucing back to win the 1968 presidential election, whatever. What I got: *Some truly great chapters about Nixon as a man with a lifelong chip on his shoulder, a constant drive to prove himself, and an overpreparer on every level to build his public facade. *Pretty good essays about Spiro T. Agnew, Wallace, George Romney, Moynihan, Nelson Rockefeller, and some other major characters of this time period that do not support his overall thesis (Nixon was actually a liberal?) and maybe did not belong here, but Garry Wills is all about the kitchen sink approach. And also..... *On the ground descriptions of public sentiment, rallies, protests, etc, and the people involved that go on forever without really providing a sense of what it was like to live through this, and without ever providing much beyond some sketches and caricature (despite GOING ON FOREVER). *Tedious discussion about the philosophy of war (Wilsonian vs.... Rooseveltian?) *Tedious discussion about the philosophy of liberalism, what is a liberal, what does it mean to be liberal, WHAT IS LIBERAL? *Less tedious digression about the meaning of elections, the purpose of elections, the meaning of democracy, the role of elections in expressing public will (or not). *Even more tedious digression into the role of liberalism in philosophy of war and liberalism in philosophy of elections. *A lot of generalizing about national vs local political parties and the role of minorities that was dated, but also too general to be helpful in understanding the time period. *Actually, a metric ton of generalizing about lots of topics in a way that is simultaneously too broad to be helpful and too specific to not be dated. Overall: A long disorganized ramble about a LOT of topics but with some gems. The latter half seemed to contain the bulk of the philosophizing and was almost unbearable. Probably a better read for more academically/philosophically minded people who like to ask questions like "what is the purpose of war" and have debates about the purpose of democracy.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Scholes

    I have read other works by Wills and I liked his writing. This, however, was a ver4y difficult read. I also found that the title was somewhat deceptive. The first half of the book discussed Nixon and the last couple chapters did also but in between was discussions of various items. It seemed to ramble a lot. He also seemed to want to write for as much more educated crowd than myself. He used the following words: infelicitous, chiastic, philhellene, ictus, orotundity, camelotitis, eschaton, agoni I have read other works by Wills and I liked his writing. This, however, was a ver4y difficult read. I also found that the title was somewhat deceptive. The first half of the book discussed Nixon and the last couple chapters did also but in between was discussions of various items. It seemed to ramble a lot. He also seemed to want to write for as much more educated crowd than myself. He used the following words: infelicitous, chiastic, philhellene, ictus, orotundity, camelotitis, eschaton, agonistes, nugatory, concatenated, canted, palinodes, remasticating, stichically, eructated, semihiant, singultus, affiches, premasticated, regnant, concatenated, sinuosities, deliquescence, lacuna, fictive, plangent, suasiveness, demimonde and aridities. There were some more but I didn't start compiling this list until chapter 2 and I wasn't willing to go back. I read a lot and I will admit that I am not that well versed in English but, really! What comes to mind is "there are a lot of big words in there missy, we are but ‘umble pirates" - H Barbossa.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Silliman

    There is a chunk of this book that's really brilliant. Wills is at his best when he takes Nixon's measure and parses Agnew's political speeches, weighing the hollowness in the belly of each phrase. There's another chunk that's interesting political analysis, like when Wills looks at how liberal academics misunderstood radical student critiques of academia, and why universities were the site of anti-war protests. But then there is a chunk that feels like Wills is wrestling with a big idea but does There is a chunk of this book that's really brilliant. Wills is at his best when he takes Nixon's measure and parses Agnew's political speeches, weighing the hollowness in the belly of each phrase. There's another chunk that's interesting political analysis, like when Wills looks at how liberal academics misunderstood radical student critiques of academia, and why universities were the site of anti-war protests. But then there is a chunk that feels like Wills is wrestling with a big idea but doesn't quite have it. He can't quite grab it. And maybe it's not a huge idea but just smoke in the shape of something, but it's not really that shape, not solid enough even for a shape. The writer is waving his arms, a little embarrassed, and the reader is embarrassed out of empathy, but also questioning previous judgements about prior portions of the book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Rose

    A spectacular work of politics and sociology. Wills grasps the crisis of liberalism and faith in the American system that we are still experiencing today. His description of the "self-made man" and the centrality of the market in American philosophy is brilliant.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Molly Lane

    Too much theatrical nonsense I wanted to read and too learn more about President Nixon and this book was not worth my time. If he had stayed with the subject and not drifted to long drawn out personal tangents I think the book would have been insightful. But it wasn't!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Adam Lara

    One of the best political books I have had a chance to read. Wills just stripped the skin off Nixon in this and lays him bare. I think it got him on Nixon's enemies list. This from a guy that William F. Buckley Jr. hired to write for the National Review to boot as well.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Hotspur

    This is hands down the best political analysis of American politics from 1960 to the present I've read. It is amazing how prescient and how correct Wills was almost 50 years ago.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Root

    I used to joke to students that Nixon was my favorite president. While he’s not my favorite he is the most interesting. This book shows why.

  22. 4 out of 5

    David

    Read for Michael Liesersons 30 level poly sci class Personality and Politics at Gonzaga, Sophomore year

  23. 4 out of 5

    William Korn

    Wills starts by following the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon. From there, he goes on to examine what he calls "American Liberalism", which is quite different from what most people nowadays (or even thenadays in 1968) refer to as as "liberal". It turns out that Wills dislikes '50s and '60s era liberals as much as he dislikes Nixon. What Wills is talking about is a series of "markets" - moral, economic, and political - which pander to the larger "myth" of what people used to believe made America gr Wills starts by following the 1968 campaign of Richard Nixon. From there, he goes on to examine what he calls "American Liberalism", which is quite different from what most people nowadays (or even thenadays in 1968) refer to as as "liberal". It turns out that Wills dislikes '50s and '60s era liberals as much as he dislikes Nixon. What Wills is talking about is a series of "markets" - moral, economic, and political - which pander to the larger "myth" of what people used to believe made America great (many still do believe the myth, even now). The myths could be succinctly described as the Horatio Alger story with a good bit of Billy Graham thrown in, not to mention Ralph Waldo Emerson, John, Stuart Mill, and Woodrow Wilson. According to Wills, it was the turbulent times of the '60s that showed people that these myths, which did help the country grow, were no longer tenable in the society made by following those myths. He saw Nixon as the last gasp of the old order. Now I summarized the book in one paragraph. But Wills is a professional historian, and it took him 602 pages. I understand why he needs to do that, but it did get a bit hard to follow at times. For instance, he talks about the "liberal" (as opposed to liberalistic) view of the "marketplace of ideas" in our universities during the '50s and '60s. He lays fourteen arguments refuting that view over the course of a longish chapter. At times he seemed to descend into argle-bargle* doing it. Perhaps the most interesting experience in reading this book was comparing how Wills saw that time and how different it seems to him than it seemed to me at the time I was living it. An historical perspective does help it make a lot more sense than it did then. *argle-bargle - a term coined by the Antonin Scalia (the man many of us love to hate) to characterize legal arguments that he doesn't like in cases where the majority goes against him.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alec

    This was the most stunningly intelligent books I have ever read. Over forty years old at this point, I found it as salient today as the day it was written, and devastatingly incisive. The terrifying question that this begs is: how have we changed so little in the last half a century? The first 3/5 of the book consists of a series of anecdotes which roughly Sketch our the 1968 Republican primary, as well as its background, and the surrounding environment at the time. He uses this setup to begin to This was the most stunningly intelligent books I have ever read. Over forty years old at this point, I found it as salient today as the day it was written, and devastatingly incisive. The terrifying question that this begs is: how have we changed so little in the last half a century? The first 3/5 of the book consists of a series of anecdotes which roughly Sketch our the 1968 Republican primary, as well as its background, and the surrounding environment at the time. He uses this setup to begin to infect the readers mind with a series of questions about the surreal implausibility of the situation. Then in the last 2/5, he goes in for the kill fundamentally shattering the philosophical scaffolding that has been (barely) propping up classical liberalism since the great depression (for the uninitiated, liberalism and Liberalism have only slightly more in common than catholic and Catholic.) Though I will not, with my halting words, do his arguments the disservice of a summary, I will say that an education on this book and its contents should be required for anyone participating in American democracy.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sean B

    Nixon Agonistes is educational and a little heavier than your average biography. Actually the book is more about political movements in the 60s than Nixon himself. The good: It is clear why Nixon was able to win in 1968. The two principle reasons were his team was more politically astute than his opponents and the Left was a mess. While I knew the general history of the 1968 election, Wills does a good job in explaining the various groups on the Left. He also goes a little into the "southern stra Nixon Agonistes is educational and a little heavier than your average biography. Actually the book is more about political movements in the 60s than Nixon himself. The good: It is clear why Nixon was able to win in 1968. The two principle reasons were his team was more politically astute than his opponents and the Left was a mess. While I knew the general history of the 1968 election, Wills does a good job in explaining the various groups on the Left. He also goes a little into the "southern strategy" of Nixon, along with how he learned from 1964. The not-so-good: Wills sometimes gets really into the weeds of political thought and philosophy. He is a professor of political science, so I understand why, but for those of us less interested in political theory, the book lags from time to time. Overall it is a solid book that gives one a better idea of the political climate of the 1960s.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Tom Buske

    This book is not at all a breezy read but an intensive look at Richard Nixon, the Presidential election of 1968 and the situations surrounding both of them. it is somewhat of a psycoanalysis of Nixon, the man and the politician but also an examination of US 20th Century political thought. The book combines history and philosophy in a sometimes spellbinding, sometimes slow-moving way. I'm pretty much of a wonk but occasionally this book was too politically deft even for me. Well worth the read ho This book is not at all a breezy read but an intensive look at Richard Nixon, the Presidential election of 1968 and the situations surrounding both of them. it is somewhat of a psycoanalysis of Nixon, the man and the politician but also an examination of US 20th Century political thought. The book combines history and philosophy in a sometimes spellbinding, sometimes slow-moving way. I'm pretty much of a wonk but occasionally this book was too politically deft even for me. Well worth the read however, for anyone interested in politics or Nixon. Points for great title and cover picture too.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Robert

    A book that I wish I had read about 8 years ealier. It taught me not only that I really enjoy reading Gary Wills, but also gave me some insight into the value system of Robert E. Lee and how it contrasts with that of the folks who engineered the diaster in Vietnam. It was also one of the earlier discussions of the distinction between economic and social realism and the extent to which Nixon had a claim to the traditional liberal label.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Fineberg

    This is a difficult book that is very gratifying. It is brilliant about Nixon, about the Republican resurgence and how it fit into America at that time. It is insightful about the 60s and today, as well. But it's a tough, tough read with many portions that don't seem relevant until you read a lot more. But if you can, read it - it's worth it.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tobias

    Not sure how well this book has aged - some sections don't feel especially relevant today - but Wills's book is an exceptional portrait not of Nixon so much as of the America that elected Nixon in 1968. Wills portrays Nixon as an avatar of the old authorities and shibboleths of American life that would be overturned by the convulsions of the late '60s/early '70s.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carl

    Terrific character study by one of the top intellectuals of the last fifty years. Wills does a brilliant job with this intricate character -- his writing is as fluid as that of any historian I have ever read.

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