Richard Nixon had a great line that he incorporated into his stump speech during the 1968 presidential campaign: “Ramsey Clark is a conscientious objector in the war against crime.” Now time has withered its biting wit. If you didn’t live through the ’60s, the line requires historical footnotes to be understood. (My teacher Jeffrey Hart recalled his contribution to the speech in this 1997 interview.)
Along comes Amity Shlaes with Great Society: A New History, by any fair reckoning one the books of the year. The book is perfectly matched with reviewer Myron Magnet in the CRB review “Poverty won.” Magnet is himself the author of The Dream and the Nightmare: The Sixties’ Legacy to the Underclass, an important account of the cultural consequences of the period.
“As the clamor swells to compound LBJ’s mistake,” Magnet writes, “Shlaes provides a sobering postmortem, dissecting how and why, when government presumes to reshape society, the result is likely to be gory.” Magnet’s brief assessment of Shlaes’s important book makes for compelling reading in its own right. Magnet’s review is our second preview of the new (Fall) issue of the Claremont Review of Books.