Recommended in NYRB, this is a book in the tradition of comparative political history, explaining why two liberal societies, the US and New Zealand, have such different political values, with freedom trumping fairness in the US, and fairness being the dominant cultural value in the New Zealand. The explanation is nuanced and detailed, but a central theme seems to line up with Horowitz’s fragment theory: the US was established as a liberal political fragment of Europe (particularly England) at a time when government was a threat of tyranny more than a promise of freedom. But NZ was established as a fragment of an optimistic reform liberal or conservative 19th century Britain, where good Christians and good government could perfect man and society. The maps of historical origins of settlers in the 18th and 19th centuries are particularly interesting...and the divisions within the US that eventually became “red” and “blue” states are revealing in terms of the evolution of political culture - from Royalist cavalier aristocrats justifying slave-holding in the South to puritanical (but not necessarily egalitarian) individualists in the North.
David Last, 15 Feb 2012