Massive Reductions

The great political project of our time is the rebellion against giantism: against the state, corporate, and professional leviathans that strangle individuals and communities. Of all the ways to injure those monsters, the single least effective one may be to write a book about it. Or, at least, to write the book that Thomas Naylor and William Willimon have written.

I don't want to be unduly critical of this volume. After all, I agree with most of it. Its chapter on schools is sensible and forceful. Its discussion of big charities is biting and spot-on. And its investigation of religion actually breaks new ground. Relatively few decentralists have called for reversing the bureaucratization of faith, despite the living examples of deprofessionalized congregations all around them, from foot-washing conclaves of Primitive Baptists to spell-casting covens of Wiccans. (If that's not all-encompassing variety, I don't know what is.) Naylor and Willimon show that big religion is facing the same crises as big government and big business, for much the same reasons, and they do this so insistently that even nonbelievers (such as me) will emerge sharing their concerns. But the book also has its share of problems, each of which overwhelms the authors' exemplary intentions.

First, and perhaps worst, is its banal, platitudinous prose. This may seem like a minor trouble, but it allows sloppy thinking to sail through under...

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