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Modest Progress, Slowly

Why are constitutions written in the Arab world? What purposes do authoritarian regimes find for issuing constitutions? What are the prospects for genuine constitutionalism and accountability in Arab governance? These questions are among those addressed in a new book, Constitutions in a Nonconstitutional World (SUNY Press, Ithaca, N.Y., 2002), by Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Nathan J. Brown.

According to Brown, the collapse of authoritarian regimes and the global resurgence of liberal democracy have led to a renewed interest in constitutions and constitutionalism. His book uses the Arab experience to explain the appeal of constitutional documents to authoritarian regimes and assesses the degree to which such constitutions can be used in the effort to make regimes more accountable.

In the words of reviewer Jill Crystal of Auburn University, “Brown understands how law fits in with the burning issues of Middle Eastern politics. He demonstrates how rulers can use law and constitutions to strengthen their rule, while most of the existing literature focuses on how they restrict central power. This is particularly interesting in light of the last ten years in the Third World, where rulers in Africa, for example, have had to figure out how to meet International Monetary Fund demands for a degree of political liberalization without actually giving up power.”

Pointing out that constitutionalism in the Arab world often has been a secondary goal to augmenting political authority, Brown believes that “movement in a constitutionalist direction” is more likely than it often appears. He cites several countries (Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, and Morocco) that have allowed limited autonomy to constitutional structures. Altogether, Brown expresses what might be described as a cautious but hopeful outlook in concluding that the “prospects for any full-fledged constitutionalism are not bright, but the prospects for evolution in a constitutionalist direction are much stronger than might be expected.”

Notorious New York

It may be that you never heard of the New York City neighborhood called—in the 19th century—“Five Points.” GW Associate Professor of History Tyler Anbinder introduces his new book this way: “The very letters of the two words seem, as they are written, to redden with the blood-stains of unavenged crime. There is Murder in every syllable, and Want, Misery and Pestilence take startling form and crowd upon the imagination as the pen traces the words.” The quote, taken from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper of Aug. 16, 1873, gives only a hint of the tapestry of teeming tenements and struggling day laborers, political machinations and riots, artistic innovations and illicit pleasures to be found in this much-maligned slum.

Anbinder’s Five Points (The Free Press, New York, 2001) has already found favor with the Book-of-the-Month Club and the critics. A starred review in Publishers Weekly calls it a “splendid book” and says that it is a history that “comes vividly alive with enormous depth and heart.” As if that weren’t enough, Pulitzer Prize co-winner for the history Gotham, Edwin G. Burrows, calls Five Points “…A first-rate history, meticulously researched and populated by an amazing cast of characters.”

Indeed, the cast of characters is somewhat breathtaking: Folks like Boss Tweed, “Tattered Maggie,” “Master Jaba,” and “The Bowery B’hoys” all have roles to play. But the real magic is to bring alive for a new generation (one with its own complex views of immigration) the tenement community that was home—such as it was—to immigrants of German, Jewish, Italian, Irish, and Chinese descent. It was a hideous slum, but it sometimes produced residents of daring, ingenuity, and resilience. Not a bad legacy for the neighborhood that was known as the World’s Most Notorious Slum.

The Unkindest Cut?

A new phenomenon has risen in the business environment. Called corporate campaigns, this form of warfare pits unions, activist groups, and industry competitors against corporate targets. These campaigns’ dramatic increase over the past decade—as well as their history, strategies, tactics and effects—form the basis of a book, The Death of a Thousand Cuts (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Mahwah, N.J., 2001) by Jarol B. Manheim, professor of media and public affairs and political science at GW.

Manheim is an expert in strategic communication in politics; he suggests that corporate campaigns are best understood as a hugely complex morality play in which the antagonists seek to define the moral high ground on terms a target company cannot possibly meet only to publicize and exploit the resulting corporate shortcomings.

“The idea of these campaigns is to work outside the experience of corporate decision makers, and to define the company itself as acting outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior,” says Manheim. “The result is an image of the company as a ‘corporate outlaw.’”

Hailed as the “definitive work on corporate campaigns” by W. Lance Bennett of the University of Washington, The Death of a Thousand Cuts provides a thorough and clear definition of what a corporate campaign is and how it differs from other, more mundane “public relations” campaigns. It identifies strategies and names of some of the higher profile companies—Coca-Cola, Microsoft, Home Depot, K-Mart, Starbucks, and UPS.

Professor Bennett concludes that the book is a “must read for anyone who wants to understand the proliferation of strategic communication campaigns that have captured American politics, left, right, and center.”

—Sandy Holland and Matthew Nehmer

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