ZNet Interviews Stephen Shalom About

(1) Can you tell ZNet, please, what your new book, Which Side Are You On? is about? What is it trying to communicate?

Which Side Are You On? is a textbook meant for use in introductory college courses in political science.
Where most texts in political science emphasize the “science,” I try to put the politics back into political science. Most texts assume that the range of political views runs from conservative to liberal; this text doesn’t engage in the opposite omission — assuming that everyone is on or must agree with the left — but it does treat the left as a real political position, worthy of study and understanding. The book introduces (in chapters of their own) conservatism, liberalism, and democratic socialism, and then — as it ranges through issues like government regulation of the economy, poverty and welfare, taxation, same sex marriage, abortion, affirmative action, crime and punishment, foreign policy, and the global economy — tries to show how each of the ideologies addresses the issue. Most texts obscure the fact that politics is contested, that there are no simple right and wrong answers to political questions. Which Side Are You On? aims to provide some of the contending arguments among different ideological positions so that readers can come to their own conclusions.

I hope the book will be used by progressive faculty who reject the usual, tired conservative texts, but who know that many of their students will resent (and rightly so) being spoon-fed the correct leftist line.

I hope, too, that this book will be of use to leftists as an aid in talking with and convincing neighbors and co-workers. To do these things effectively, one needs both to understand what the opposing arguments are in order to address them, and to think about what kinds of counter-arguments work best.

(2) Can you tell ZNet something about writing the book? Where does the content come from? What went into making the book what it is?

Which Side Are You On? is the result of many years of discussing and arguing with students in my classes, audiences at speaking events, neighbors, and colleagues. As I wrote the book, I read countless articles making conservative and liberal arguments, in the conviction that one can’t address people’s concerns and arguments without first understanding what they’re trying to say.

I also spent a lot of time trying to make the writing accessible and jargon-free, with engaging examples. The book has dozens of cartoons and photos to help make it more appealing. At the same time, solid documentation is provided, because readers want to know — and deserve to know — where information comes from.

(3) What are your hopes for Which Side Are You On? What do you hope it will contribute or achieve, politically? Given the effort and aspirations you have for the book, what will you deem to be a success? What would leave you happy about the whole undertaking? What would leave you wondering if it was worth all the time and effort?
Obviously, lots of readers means that the book will have a significant impact. More generally, though, the book will be a success if it contributes to students taking politics and the left seriously and to leftists engaging with non-leftists.



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