In Praise of Barbarians is a collection of articles written by Mike Davis, most for the journal Socialist Review. Davis is a socialist writer living in San Diego. He’s been an activist since his high school days, once serving as southern California organizer for the SDS in the mid 1960s.
He writes in a very engaging style - slightly ironic, seldom doctrinaire. Even if you don’t share his socialist viewpoint you might still enjoy many of his articles. His perspective is that of an engaged political activist, with a deep skepticism and contempt for the mass media lies and distortions that we are daily subjected to. For those of us who are disgusted with the current lack of journalistic integrity in the mainstream media, Davis reminds us that this is not a new phenomenon. He writes at length about the Sunset Strip protests from 1966-1968, and quotes the LA Times at length: even then, the Times was a tool of the conservative business interests in LA, and journalistic integrity was never allowed to get in the way of pushing their viewpoint. By the way, the Buffalo Springfield song, “For What It’s Worth” (“There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear, …”) was based on the Sunset Strip protests / police riots.
The unifying theme running through these articles is that of America as an imperialist nation in decline. Objectively that seems incontrovertible. The illegal conquest of Iraq, US troops stationed in over a hundred countries worldwide, worldwide support for dictatorships and right-wing oligarchies, refusal to be bound by international law - any one of these would be sufficient proof of imperialism. And that the US is in decline is evident to us all. Our economy has been built on a foundation of sand for the past 25 years as one administration after another has sought to export jobs and import cheap goods, converting our country into a nation of consumers rather than producers.
Strangely, though, I found that Davis’ articles were cause for hope. We can change our country for the better. We need to look objectively at what works and at what hasn’t worked and make the right decisions. The electoral process will probably not do us much good. Little progress has ever been achieved in America via the ballot box. The vote for women, civil rights, improvements in labor conditions, and environmental protections have all come from mass movements and pressure from masses of ordinary people. It can happen again.