Book Review: American Mourning: Tragedy, Democracy, Resilience, by Simon Stow

Date01 June 2019
Published date01 June 2019
Subject MatterBook Reviews
/tmp/tmp-174hDgEqaRMi0h/input Book Reviews
elaborating these pillars of his late philosophy in the context of the eternal
recurrence, thereby linking them to one another through his deepest and most
unifying thought.
The fact that Gillespie sees the arc of Nietzsche’s late thought so clearly
and comprehensively makes his disavowals of it throughout the book all the
more surprising. How readers of Nietzsche’s Final Teaching react to these
disavowals will depend on how they assess the accuracy of Gillespie’s diag-
nosis of the ills of the modern West to which Nietzsche was responding. In
Gillespie’s view, “Nietzsche’s fears about the inevitability of nihilistic despair
and suicide have proven extravagant” (38). Bourgeois society, he argues,
under the stewardship of Anglo-American liberalism and Christianity, has
shown that it can weather the death of God without passing into nihilism or
necessitating the cultivation of a value-creating Übermensch. This may be
true, but the vengeful trajectory of contemporary democratic politics, the per-
vasive use of modern technology as a distractive narcotic, and the public
denigration of liberal education and intellectualism (to name but a few symp-
toms) would all seem to suggest that the nihilistic threats to Western society
are far from overblown. What Gillespie’s book provides us with is an occa-
sion to think through these threats with the help of the most profound critic of
the West, and to think with renewed lucidity whether we agree with him or
American Mourning: Tragedy, Democracy, Resilience, by Simon Stow. New York, NY:
Cambridge University Press, 2017, 234 pp.
Reviewed by: Heather Pool, Political Science, Denison University, Granville, OH, USA
DOI: 10.1177/0090591718786711
This is a book about the living: about bodies human and politic. Stow argues
that the response of the living to the dead—whether citizens, soldiers, or
enemies—is an important means to diagnose the depth of our commitment to
democracy. Thus, while the dead are always present (in politics and this
book), the real question is what do we, the living, do with those bodies? What
stories do we and should we mobilize in their names? Considering and cri-
tiquing the American response to the losses of September 11, the funeral of
Coretta Scott King, the assassination of Osama bin Laden, as well as return-
ing American war dead and veterans, Stow turns to theorists of agonistic
democracy and the Greeks to offer a series of categorizations of mourning as

Political Theory 47(3)
well as prescriptions for how we might mourn more tragically, and thus
potentially more honestly and democratically.
Through a series of engagements with events in the years since September
11, Stow categorizes and critiques American responses to loss. Defining pub-
lic mourning as “the attempt to employ grief for political ends” (5), Stow
begins by considering the reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address at Ground
Zero on the first anniversary of the attacks. Following a brilliant reading of
Plato’s Menexenus and Pericles’ orations in Thucydides’ History, Stow argues
that Lincoln’s words at Gettysburg drew on both Pericles’s funeral oration—
full of high praise for the dead and the city itself—and Pericles’s plague ora-
tion—describing how the citizens of Athens, when confronted by a crisis, lost
their bearings and became lawless (38). As a...

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