Cover Image: We the Fallen People

We the Fallen People

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Member Reviews

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Tracy McKenzie, and InterVarsity Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a former student of politics and one who enjoys the analytical side of things, I grabbed this tome by Robert Tracy McKenzie with great interest. His basic premise is that America is neither GOOD, nor GREAT in its current political state, even as politicians would espouse this falsehood freely. While one could look at insurrectionist activities, the treatment of certain races, or even the state of protection from the pandemic that some state governments offer their people, McKenzie chooses to look at the political core, democracy. 

McKenzie asserts clearly that the democracy embedded in the US Constitution is not what is being practiced today, nor has it been throughout the ages. McKenzie does not pretend that even the original democratic foundation in America was perfect, nor does it have the fluidity of a textbook presentation. However, the Founding Fathers worked with what they had and could not have foreseen every eventuality, some of which were abused in years to come. A number of democratic shortcomings are explored in the tome itself.

The general sentiment that there is a need for proper democratic input and output holds true, though it is impossible to run a country in a vacuum. McKenzie presents some of the struggles with trying to run a new country that sought to forge its own rules, pitting democratic ideals with everyday goings-on. Protecting the minority in a system where majority rules was one such example and there is significant ink used to explore this. The balance is both essential and complicated, though McKenzie makes fair points about its implementation.

McKenzie would be remiss if he glossed over some of the larger democratic abuses in the early stages of American democracy. His focus on the treatment of Indian resettlement during the Andrew Jackson presidency is a blight on the entire process. This continued when Jackson sought to wrest control of the banks during his time in the White House. McKenzie clearly espouses that there are gaping holes in democracy, which Jackson used to his advantage. 

An interesting contrast emerges when McKenzie pulls in the analysis that Alexis de Tocqueville made when he came to America and penned his magnum opus, Democracy in America. Tocqueville spent numerous months in the country and sought to present his findings for all to synthesise. However, as McKenzie argues, the end result was a massive tome that was completely indigestible for the common person and remains so today. Tocqueville offered some poignant comments about how America ran its political affairs and some key lines have been taken out of context while also falsely presented in the years that followed.

McKenzie makes clear that there are problems, and that America is in need of some major changes. He is not of the opinion that it is impossible to rectify, though it is not as simple as reading the book and gloriously shaking off the shackles of the past. There is work to be done, beginning at the grassroots. Whether this is something someone wants to undertake is another matter. That said, “democracy isn’t intrinsically intolerant and authoritarian, but it can be”, given ongoing ignorance. 

While I have read my fair share of political non-fiction over the years, the span of ‘readability’ is not equal. Some books are able to boil things down to the basics and make it easily digested by the layreader, while others are more academic and seek a deeper understanding to comprehend the detailed analyses. McKenzie is part of the latter group, though I did not find this to be a deterrent. I need to flex my brain at times and really get to the heart of the matter. This makes it a denser read, which is fine if I am expecting it. McKenzie offers strong arguments with many core examples to substantiate them, without belabouring too many points. In a handful of well-structured chapters, McKenzie makes his thesis clear and keeps the reader engaged. If I had to offer any critique, it would be the layout of the footnoting, though the sloppiness may simply be a part of the ARC I received. The mish-mash took away from the flow throughout, though I suppose some readers prefer easy access to citations as they read.

Kudos, Mr. McKenzie, for a decent read and some strong arguments. My brain is buzzing and it’s just what I needed.
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At Nathan's Papers, we focus primarily on reviewing historical nonfiction about the American Revolution and Founding Era.  I was initially drawn to We the Fallen People because of the interesting cover and description.  I generally  liked some parts of the book, particularly the discussion of Alexis de Tocqueville's tour of the United States.  However,. I was a little disappointed by a couple of elements of the book.

The introduction focused primarily on contemporary politics.  This automatically created a negative impression partially because I was expecting something else.  If the book is focused on more contemporary issues, it would probably be helpful to mention that in the description that way the reader knows what to expect.  

The content also seemed a little slanted towards a political view point.  While there definitely is a market for books that favor the author's seeming critiques of the actions of former President Donald Trump's administration, the description does not indicate that this is what the reader will get if they purchase this book.  My preference is to read historical nonfiction that are fairly neutral in terms of ideology.  

My rating of this book is based on the fact that it is not the type of book that I would read or purchase, rather than anything being wrong with it.
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“We the Fallen People” is very detailed in the history of America as an idea with the notion that maybe we were never as virtuous as we have come to believe today. The author states that today people are unhappy and angry with government and many have a lack of trust for public officials.  But as the author reminds us, it is going to take more than bumper stickers and slogans to turn it around. We all must be better stewards of intentional learning about democracy and what democracy is supposed to accomplish with the question always in mind how do we know what excellence in democracy looks like in our minds. The author talks about this by detailing how the founding Fathers, philosophers, and leaders were not disillusioned by what America was and the threat and challenges to democracy. However, over time this mythological narrative that America is great has been passed down through the generations without rigorous thought and in essence it was just story telling that we all came to believe is the goal of democracy. The author outlines this through in depth research and discussion of published and unpublished works of the founding fathers, philosophers, religious scholars, and leaders throughout history up through today. One of the most cited is A. Tocqueville, “Democracy in America” and the author outlines Tocqueville was not overly romanticized by America but found it to be the best example of democracy in the world at the time he was alive. For Tocqueville, the ultimate goal was not democracy but was love, liberty and human dignity for all. In other words, he didn’t have blind faith of democracy, but it was the best path toward the goals of love, liberty and human dignity. The major premise of the book is to remind us “American Christians remain unchanged: to think christianly about democracy and respond rightly to it and live faithfully within it”. We must remain diligent in defending democracy while understanding democracy’s limitations and not becoming overly romanticized with it but is the best form of government to continue to fulfill enlightenment, prosperity and human dignity. The author highlighted two  quotes, first from Abraham Lincoln, “Think anew, act anew in confronting the crisis before them” and second from Madison “if men were angels, no government should be necessary”. This must be the battle cry for each generation to keep democracy working without being intoxicated with democracy. The author clearly develops this point throughout history from the challenges every generation has faced with democracy. Remembering, it is never over but is passed on to the next generation to continue. To sum it up with a quote from Benjamin Franklin who was asked in Philadelphia do we have a democracy and he replied “yes, if you can keep it”.
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