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Peter S. Wenz

Peter S. Wenz is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Springfield and University Scholar at the University of Illinois. He is the author of Beyond Red and Blue: How Twelve Political Philosophies Shape American Debates (MIT Press) and other books.

Titles by This Author

Progressive Taxation for a New Progressive Agenda

Midcentury America was governed from the center, a bipartisan consensus of politicians and public opinion that supported government spending on education, the construction of a vast network of interstate highways, healthcare for senior citizens, and environmental protection. These projects were paid for by a steeply progressive tax code, with a top tax rate at one point during the Republican Eisenhower administration of 91 percent. Today, a similar agenda of government action (and progressive taxation) would be portrayed as dangerously left wing. At the same time, radically anti-government and anti-tax opinions (with no evidence to support them) are considered part of the mainstream. In Take Back the Center, Peter Wenz makes the case for a sane, reality-based politics that reclaims the center for progressive policies. The key, he argues, is taxing the wealthy at higher rates. The tax rate for the wealthiest Americans has declined from the mid-twentieth-century high of 91 percent to a twenty-first-century low of 36 percent--even as social programs are gutted and the gap betweeen rich and poor widens dramatically.

Ever since Ronald Reagan famously declared that government was the problem and not the solution, conservatives have had an all-purpose answer to any question: smaller government and lower taxes. Wenz offers an impassioned counterargument. He explains the justice of raising the top tax rates significantly, making a case for less income inequality (and countering society’s worship of the wealthy), and he offers suggestions for how to spend the increased tax revenues: K-12 education, tuition relief, transportation and energy infrastructure, and universal health care. Armed with Wenz’s evidence-driven arguments, progressives can position themselves where they belong: in the mainstream of American politics and at the center of American political conversations, helping their country address a precipitous decline in equality and quality of life.

How Twelve Political Philosophies Shape American Debates

On any given night cable TV news will tell us how polarized American politics is: Republicans are from Mars, Democrats are from Canada. But in fact, writes Peter Wenz in Beyond Red and Blue, Americans do not divide neatly into two ideological camps of red/blue, Republican/Democrat, right/left. In real life, as Wenz shows, different ideologies can converge on certain issues; people from the right and left can support the same policy for different reasons. Thus, for example, libertarian-leaning Republicans can oppose the Patriot Act’s encroachment on personal freedom and social conservatives can support gay marriage on the grounds that it strengthens the institution of marriage.

Wenz maps out twelve political philosophies--ranging from theocracy and free-market conservatism to feminism and cosmopolitanism--on which Americans draw when taking political positions. He then turns his focus to some of America’s most controversial issues and shows how ideologically diverse coalitions can emerge on such hot-button topics as extending life by artificial means, the war on drugs, the war on terrorism, affirmative action, abortion, same-sex marriage, health care, immigration, and globalization.

Awareness of these twelve political philosophies, Wenz argues, can help activists enlist allies, citizens better understand politics and elections, and all of us define our own political identities.