Paul Starr

Paul Starr is co-editor of the The American Prospect. His most recent book is Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle over Health Care ReformClick here to read more about Starr.

Recent Articles

Of Our Time: The Loophole We Can't Close

There may be no way to limit spending that is both constitutional and effective.

Nineteen ninety-eight is the 200th anniversary of an event that I trust no one will care to celebrate: the Sedition Act of 1798, the single most egregious violation of freedom of speech in American history. Less than a decade after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the Sedition Act made it a crime to defame President John Adams or the Congress, which was then in the hands of the Federalists. The Adams administration used the law to imprison most of the editors of the major opposition (Jeffersonian Republican) newspapers. Nothing in American history, not even McCarthyism, comes close in the scale of political repression, and thankfully nothing like it is on the horizon. Nonetheless, the Sedition Act still holds two lessons for us today. First, otherwise reasonable people can convince themselves that there is a compelling governmental interest in the restriction of political speech. In the case of the Sedition Act, those reasonable people included Washington, Adams, and Hamilton as...

Of Our Time: Cyberpower and Freedom

In politics and the public imagination, computers have gone from symbolizing our vulnerability to embodying our possibilities. In their early days during the 1950s and 1960s, computers seemed destined to increase the power of government and big corporations, and the great worry was how to protect privacy and individual freedom. Then the advent of the personal computer and other low-cost electronics suggested that information technology might be the ultimate tool of decentralization and individual empowerment, and the rise of global telecommunications and the Internet promised to annihilate national borders. Now many of us sit at keyboards easily connecting to computers all over the world, and to some people the thought suggests itself: "Why do we need national government at all?" Things have swung around so completely that influential analysts, especially on the right, see the information revolution as a great historical reversal of power, ushering in a new age of individualism on the...

A War for Democracy?

Like Woodrow Wilson during World War I, George W. Bush has held out the promise that by going to war, America can make the world safe for democracy. Once Saddam Hussein is ousted, we can turn Iraq into a political and economic model for the Arab world, addressing the causes of terrorism at their roots. Some liberals who support the war are attracted by this vision -- and indeed it has its attractions. But just as the outcome of World War I dashed the hopes of pro-war progressives and set the stage for an even more terrible conflict, so war in Iraq may bring not just disappointment but further cycles of bloodshed. Deep-seated political realities ought to make us skeptical about the likelihood of an American-led democratic revolution in the Middle East. After World War I, Wilson's promises of popular self-determination were betrayed partly because America's allies had no intention of fulfilling them. In the Mideast today, the United States is similarly allied with regimes distinctly...

The Easy War

"If you want peace, understand war," the military historian B. H. Liddell Hart once wrote, and during the past century -- some would say ever since Gen. Sherman's march through Georgia -- that injunction meant anyone interested in peace needed above all to understand the practice of "total war." Total war overflowed earlier boundaries. Instead of limited firepower aimed only at men in uniform, total war called for far greater levels of violence directed at civilians and soldiers alike, and at home meant all-out mobilization of economic resources, science, the mass media and public opinion. This was the experience of the two world wars, and the Cold War threatened to give the paradigm its ultimate expression in the form of "mutual assured destruction." The 20th century was, in the sociologist Raymond Aron's phrase, the "century of total war." Now, with weapons of an even greater sophistication, Americans contemplate war of nearly the opposite kind in Iraq. Our technological edge is so...

The Repudiation Syndrome

S ince Lyndon Johnson, every Democrat who has run for president has suffered repudiation within his own party after either serving in office or losing the election. Democrats repudiated Johnson because of the Vietnam War, Jimmy Carter because of the economy and Bill Clinton because of his personal conduct, and they repudiated George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis for their seeming personal inadequacy in the crucible of political battle. Seen in this context, the widespread rejection of Al Gore within the Democratic Party after the 2000 election is less an idiosyncratic event than a new instance of a persistent syndrome. Like the other defeated candidates, Gore has suffered a kind of ritual denigration and shunning, as everything about him has come to be seen through the lens of political disappointment. Democrats continue to harbor the illusion that they are the majority party in America. When their presidential candidates lose, the reflexive response among many in the...

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