What Comes Next? Proposals for a Different Society, by Thad Williamson. Washington: National Center for Economic and Security Alternatives, copyright 1998. Paperbound, 185 pages.
Thad Williamson has performed a great service for anyone who wants to survey the current lines of thought being pursued in such books, by giving us an annotated bibliography. In What Comes Next, Williamson gives short synopses of the main points made in each of dozens of these books, enabling the reader to take in a wide range of thinking without wading through every tome on his or her own. We might call Williamson's work a kind of Reader's Digest of important recent thought, and we mean this only in a good sense -- Williamson is not trying to homogenize the views of the authors whose works he reviews nor is he hiding the radical ideas and arguments going on.
I know that I would never have the time to read most of the books discussed in What Comes Next, but getting a sense of their proposals is very helpful. You will also get your own inidividual and quite useful picture of which books are most urgent to you, which ones you should read right away and which can be avoided.
Although What Comes Next is a bibliography, I read it cover-to-cover with no difficulty -- it feels like reading a series of short book reviews, each related in some interesting way to the overall topic of where our society is trending and how the worst aspects of that trend may be modified.
Additionally, the book's wide coverage means that you are likely to find unexpected allies who support your own views, yet whose written work you are not yet familiar with. For example, I am a geoist, and found several works discussed in What Comes Next where the authors, previously unknown to me, are in broad agreement with geoism.
Like any book, this one is not perfect. There is no index, not even an author index -- in these days when most of the work of compiling an index can be done with the push of a button on your computer, I'm afraid there is no good excuse for this omission. Also, "additional references" are listed in several places in the book, but in no particular order, and this too makes finding specific materials needlessly cumbersome.
Although it is the outcome of a careful project spanning several years, this book does have a number of minor typographical errors and grammatical slips. These do not damage the book's overall worth, but the errors were frequent enough that they sometimes took my attention away from the meaty content.
One other concern involves the dividing of people into categories. A major topic addressed again and again by the authors discussed in What Comes Next is the need for citizens to unite and grow in political power, whether in the short or long run, so that democracy can be made more responsive to citizens and less the pawn of corporate greedmongering. Some writers are optimistic, others quite pessimistic, about the chances for important reform coming from government -- but they appear consistently to take a stance in favor of democracy.
Now, Williamson uses the terms "right" and "left" to describe people and points of view. Many people do that, and we understand pretty well what they mean. But ask youself -- does assigning citizens into two opposing bins, the left and the right, benefit them? On the contrary, it would seem to be the powers of greed and environmental destruction that benefit most from a right/left separation -- for no power sufficient to oppose the wealthy elites can be assembled without drawing from both categories. Additionally, considering things "right" or "left" makes it harder for people to grasp many of the creative proposals that Williamson lauds, for these proposals seek frequently to go beyond such a distinction, and lose much of their beauty when crammed into a conventional, unchallenging right-or-left framework. Let's avoid that risk.
I see one of Williamson's goals as encouraging the uniting of people, not their division. Additionally, no category of people has a monopoly on significant, useful ideas. Let us embrace the best ideas wherever they may be found. I encourage everyone to try avoiding the right-left terms and see how that feels.
But don't let these quibbles delay your getting a copy of this book. Without a doubt, What Comes Next is an important resource if you want to learn "the lay of the land" on current thinking toward a better society. Williamson's summaries are careful and enlightening.
My final disappointment is not with What Comes Next at all, but with the failure of geoist ideas to be featured prominently inside it. There have been important, recent books that point to a better society -- for instance, Now the Synthesis, or The Corruption of Economics, or A Philosophy for a Fair Society. But they did not "make it" into Williamson's bibliography. The reason is that these books simply never were promoted to, nor read by, enough people; they are not much talked about and have not influenced the other works discussed in What Comes Next. Let me therefore issue a challenge -- geoist authors and publishers, add to your strength in promoting your good works so that, were Williamson to issue another edition of his bibliography in five or ten years, he would be certain to include several explicitly geoist works.