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Is There Hope for America? George Packer

Festival of Ideas
George Packer

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Award-winning author and commentator George Packer diagnoses America's fall into a failed state, and puts forward a route towards overcoming injustice, paralysis, and division.

How, in a few decades, did the United States change from a broadly prosperous middle-class country, with relatively healthy institutions and competent leaders, to a nation defined by discredited elites, hollowed-out institutions, and blatant inequalities?

Packer combines reportage with historical narrative, autobiography, and political analysis to assess the four inadequate narratives that dominate American public life: ‘Libertarian America’, which imagines a nation of individuals responsible for their own fate, and serves the interests of corporations and the wealthy; ‘Cosmopolitan America’, the ideology of Silicon Valley and the professional elite, which celebrates globalisation and leaves many American communities behind; ‘Diverse America’, which defines citizens as members of large identity groups that have inflicted or suffered oppression; and ‘White America’, a shallow nationalism that fears the contamination of non-whites and treachery of coastal elites, and poses the greatest threat to democracy in our lifetime.

Packer believes that none of these narratives can sustain American democracy. By looking back at previous periods of crisis to find ideas for a better future, he puts forward what’s needed for invigorating self-government.

In conversation with Bristol Ideas director Andrew Kelly.

Book cover of Last Best Hope by George Packer

George Packer’s Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal is published by Vintage Publishing. Buy a copy from Waterstones, our book selling partners.

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George Packer

George Packer is a staff writer for the Atlantic and a former staff writer for The New Yorker. He is the author of The Unwinding: Thirty Years of American Decline, which was a New York Times bestseller and won a National Book Award. His other nonfiction books include The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq, Blood of the Liberals, which won the 2001 Robert F Kennedy Book Award, and Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century, which won the Los Angeles Times Biography Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Awards. He has also written two novels, The Half Man and Central Square. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Harper’s, and other publications. His latest book is Last Best Hope: America in Crisis and Renewal.

Image credit: Michael Lionstar

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