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Politics without Stories

Book description

Liberal candidates, scholars, and activists mainly promote pragmatism rather than large and powerful narratives - which may be called 'alpha stories' for their commanding presence over time. Alternatively, conservative counterparts to such liberals tend to promote their policy preferences in alpha stories praising effective markets, excellent traditions, and limited government. In this face-off, liberals represent a post-Enlightenment world where many modern people, following Max Weber, are 'disenchanted', while many conservatives, echoing Edmund Burke, cherish stories borrowed from the past. Politics without Stories describes this storytelling gap as an electoral disadvantage for liberals because their campaigning lacks, and will continue to lack, the inspiration and shared commitments that great, long-term stories can provide. Therefore, Ricci argues that, for tactical purposes, liberals should concede their post-Enlightenment skepticism and rally around short-term stories designed to frame, in political campaigns, immediate situations which they regard as intolerable. These may help liberals win elections and influence the course of modern life.


‘Politics without Stories is fresh, original and timely. It is one of those rare books that will rock the academic specialists and reach the legendary general reader. The book is the rich fruit of a lifetime of scholarship. David Ricci has a winning way with words and a knack for down-to-earth examples that will make his analyses as accessible to undergraduates as they will be stimulating to scholars. This is pathbreaking work.'

Michael Zuckerman - University of Pennsylvania

‘Politics without Stories offers a robust and self-confident account of how and why conservative Republican capacities for telling ‘alpha stories' of God, America, and markets persistently triumph in US politics over liberal Democratic preferences for technocratic frames geared toward pragmatic ‘problem solving'. A steadily paced, lucidly delivered argument about the power of narratives that puts a decisively political spin on the ‘liberal predicament' that Ricci effectively exposes in this astute no-nonsense book.'

Mary G. Dietz - Northwestern University, Illinois

‘David Ricci's book is both a sketch for a history of modern political ideas and, in the best sense, a provocation. While the right offers a ‘story of magnificent markets' menaced by big government, pragmatic liberalism retreats into policy lists and interest groups. So, as Ricci pungently writes, ‘at storytelling time the left is out to lunch'. For this shortfall, thankfully, he offers no tidy remedy. Rather, he argues convincingly that ‘the liberal predicament is intractable'. This cogent and chastening analysis is a shrewd and helpful guide through a dangerous political moment.'

Todd Gitlin - Columbia University, New York

'Why do conservatives do so well in America, even among people whose interests lie elsewhere? In this insightful and original study, David Ricci explains that conservatives tell stories that tie at your heartstrings while liberals promote complex policy recommendations that glaze over even the most committed eyes. When there is a tug of war between the brain and the heart, the brain will always be a loser, and so it is with liberals. Anyone who wants to understand the American political scene, and especially the rise of Donald Trump, needs to read this book.'

Steven R. David - Johns Hopkins University

‘David Ricci argues clearly and cogently that both modern liberal theories and modern liberal politics work against the crafting of grand stories of political meaning and purpose. He hopes that smaller stories of paths to humane improvements can strengthen liberal causes. Ricci's compelling analysis defines central challenges liberals must confront, now and in the years ahead.'

Rogers M. Smith - University of Pennsylvania

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