Book Summary — The Audacity of Hope 2

Chapter 3 on constitution reads more like a lecture note, especially the part where Obama ponders the origin of the US Constitution. After all, Obama himself have taught Constitution Law at University of Chicago. My knowledge on political philosophy is limited. In a philosophy course I took in the National University of Singapore, I read On Liberty by J.S. Mill, and Two Concepts of Liberty by I. Berlin. I enjoyed reading those texts the same as I enjoy reading this chapter, although I see the reading more of an intellectual experience than arguments that concerns my day-to-day life. However, this chapter does make me wonder one question, the question that a constitution seeks to answer — If one is given the task of building a nation, how would s/he design a system that balance the freedom of individuals with the necessary order of a community. Obama agrees with the answer that “one sees our democracy not as a house to be built, but as a conversation to be had”.

Chapter 4 titled Politics examined some of the institutional forces that have shaped US politics today: campaign (and money chase), interests groups, and media. Although at the beginning of the chapter he mentioned the conventional wisdom that “It is an American tradition to attribute the problem with our politics to the quality of our politicians”, by examining how universal human natures — such as ambition, the desire to win, and the fear to lose — plays out in politicians, including himself, Obama offers a more realistic picture of politicians, some of whom, as Obama puts it, would be wonderful companions. However, Obama did express great concerns in the structuring of Washington when he wrote”most people who serve in Washington have been trained either as lawyers or as political operatives — professions that tend to place a premium on winning arguments rather than solving problems”, particularly given the harsh truth that “In politics, there may be second acts, but there is no second place”.

One great quote, which I found a bit confusing when I first read it, reads: “I found comfort in the fact that the longer I’m in politics the less nourishing popularity becomes, that a striving for power and rank and fame seems to betray a poverty of ambition, and that I am answerable mainly to the steady gaze of my own conscience.”

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Wendong Wang

A chemist who blogs

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