REVIEWSrnMassive Reductionsrnby Jesse WalkerrnDownsizing the U.S.A.rnby Thomas A. Naylor andrnWilliam H. WillimonrnGrand Rapids: VVm. B. Eerdmans;rn289 pp., $25.00rnThe great poHtical project of ourrntime is the rebelHon against giantism:rnagainst the state, corporate, andrnprofessional leviathans that strangle individualsrnand communities. Of all thernva’s to injure those monsters, the singlernleast effective one may be to write a bookrnabout it. Or, at least, to write the bookrnthat Thomas Naylor and William Willimonrnhave written.rnI don’t want to be unduly critical ofrnthis volume. After all, I agree with mostrnof it. Its chapter on schools is sensiblernand forceful. Its discussion of big charitiesrnis biting and spot-on. And its investigationrnof religion actually breaks newrnground. Relatively few decentralistsrnhave called for reversing the bureaucratizationrnof faith, despite the living examplesrnof deprofessionalized congregationsrnall around them, from foot-washing conclavesrnof Primitive Baptists to spell-castingrncovens of Wiccans. (If that’s not allencompassingrnvariet)’, I don’t know whatrnis.) Naylor and Willimon show that bigrnreligion is facing the same crises as bigrngovernment and big business, for muchrnthe same reasons, and they do this so insistentiyrnthat even nonbelievers (such asrnme) will emerge sharing their concerns.rnBut the book also has its share of problems,rneach of which overwhelms the authors’rnexemplary intentions.rnFirst, and perhaps worst, is its banal,rnplatitudinous prose. This may seem likerna minor trouble, but it allows sloppvrnthinking to sail through under the coverrnof cliche. “Our nation has lost its way,”rnbegins one passage.rnWe suffer from meaninglessness,rnwhich in turn leads to separation,rnalienation, and ultimately to despair.rnOur political, spiritual, academic,rnand business leaders havernno vision of the future. We havernno sense of connectedness. Thernspecter of nihilism looms over us,rnas evidenced b- the Los Angelesrnriots, the bombings in OklahomarnCity and Atlanta, the Unabomber,rnthe O.J. Simpson trials, and thernHeaven’s Gate cult.rnBy this point, the tvpical reader’s evesrnwill have glazed over, lulled into suspendedrnanimation by the cascadingrnmush. He thus might not notice thatrnthose all-too-familiar phrases do not, inrnthis context, make much sense. How, forrnexample, are the Heaven’s Gate suicidesrna sign of “nihilism”? The cultists certainlyrnbelie’ed in something, albeitrnsomething destructive and absurd. Thernsame goes for the Unabomber, and forrnwhoever attacked the federal building inrnOklahoma Cit-. And why mention thernO.J. Simpson trials? Members of the firstrnjury have ottered many reasons for theirrndecision to let Mr. Simpson go free, butrnnot one has declared, “Nothing is real.rnEverything is permissible.” As for thernsecond jury, I don’t see why Naylor andrnWillimon bring it up at all. This is not arncoherent list of nihilistic events but an almostrnrandom list of recent news stories,rnselected more for familiarit}’ and frightrnvalue than anything else. Unfortunately,rnit is t}pical of this book. Cliche followsrncliche as winter follows fall; a single paragraphrncontains the phrases “we must actrnnow,” “we must act decisively,” “it’s laterrnthan we think,” “the stakes are particularlyrnhigh,” and “for the sake of our children.”rnEgad.rnThere are also many inconsistenciesrnin the text. A little self-contradictionrnisn’t necessarily a bad thing: Naylorrnand Willimon are large; Naylor andrnWillimon contain multitudes. But whyrnshould a book that celebrates the messyrndiversih’ of local disorder offer passagesrnlike this one?rnHouston, T’exas, with its craz-rnquilted hodgepodge of beautifulrnresidential neighborhoods, churches,rnschools, and universities lacedrnwith unsightly oil refineries, petrochemicalrnplants, strip malls, andrnconvenience stores, is thernquintessential example of the resultrnof a combination of unlimitedrngrovN’th, no zoning laws, and arnPollvanna “anything goes” attitudern—uncontrollable, dehumanized,rnconcrete-and-steel chaos.rnHeaven knows, Houston has its problems,rnmany attributable to overcentralization.rnThere is, most obviously, thernconstant influx of federal dollars. Untilrnrecently, it suffered from an overreliancernon a single industry, oil. But chaos is preciselyrnits charm, especially from a decentralistrnpoint of view. If Naylor andrnWillimon disagree, they ought to explainrnwhy.rnA similar problem comes when theyrnstick up for the many small businessesrnthat have gone belly up because of competitionrnfrom Wal-Mart. I hold no briefrnfor the Walton empire, but I can’t helprnnoting that many of the business practicesrnNaylor and Willimon praise —employeernparticipation in management, forrnexample—are partly in force within thernArkansas-based chain. Does this precludernWal-Mart-bashing? No. Should itrnbe addressed? AbsoluteK.rnThen there are the many places yvherernNaylor and Willimon simply fail tornprove their claims. First they say thatrncorporate America is overgrown. No argumentrnhere. Then they praise small,rnenvironmentally sound enterprises likernBen & Jerry’s. Who wouldn’t agree?rnAnd then they declare that as the firstrngroup of businesses downsizes, the secondrnwill pick up the slack. I wish thatrnwere so, but it will take more than merernassertion to prove it.rnFinally, the book makes a strikingrnomission. Naylor and Willimon exaltrnthe rural at the expense of the urban;rnit is in the countryside, they say, that thernprospects for human-scale living remainrnthe strongest. Maybe so. But decentralizationrnis not incompatible withrnmetropolitan living, and the authors arernwrong to describe countr}’ life as “our lastrnhope” while there remains at least somernpromise for revivifying tiie cities. I wouldrnhave liked to learn the case for municipalrnfederation, for transforming citiesrn30/CHRONICLESrnrnrn