The New Golden Rule: Community And Morality In A Democratic Society

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9780465052974: The New Golden Rule: Community And Morality In A Democratic Society

One of the world's leading sociologists and most quoted intellectuals in America today, Amitai Etzioni has been the subject of numerous profiles in all the major media and has worked both with members of the Clinton Administration and Republican senators on social issues and policy. Now, in this important new book, he invites us to explore how a good society should operate and what values we must bring to our social interactions if we are to achieve stronger and more enduring community ties.As Etzioni has found in his years devoted to researching and studying the subject, the problem facing society today is that half the population is wary of order and morality, while the other half is suspicious of liberty, which is equated with permissiveness. In an in-depth analysis that masterfully cuts this Gordian knot, the author lays out how we can, indeed must, have both order and autonomy if we are to create a society in which communities and individuals can thrive. Recognizing that excessive morality and excessive liberty are each a dire threat to the health of society, Etzioni demonstrates how we have overreacted in recent years by assuming that there must be a tradeoff between morality and freedom. However, this need not be the case, because when order is largely based on moral commitments rather than on the law, and autonomy is regarded as a place in a social space, these two social virtues can reinforce each other.Using this framework, Etzioni studies the implications for the future of diversity in America, the implications for educating the next generation, and our relationships with other societies. He also explores the public policy implications of his observations and how governments, community groups and families can respond and grow.

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About the Author:

Amitai Etzioni is a University Professor at George Washington University and the author of fourteen books on social policy and ethics, including The Spirit of Community and The Moral Dimension. He is the founding president of the Communitarian Network, the editor of The Responsive Community, and a former president of the American Sociological Association. He lives in Washington, D.C.

From Kirkus Reviews:

This chapter of sociologist Etzioni's (George Washington Univ.) ongoing communitarian campaign breaks new ground but ends up mired in intellectual bickering. Proponents of individual freedom find the communitarian emphasis on shared social values dangerously close to authoritarianism. Etzioni's current response to this fear is a reformulation of the golden rule: ``Respect and uphold society's moral order as you would have society respect and uphold your autonomy.'' For Etzioni (The Spirit of Community, 1993, etc.), following this rule in any society requires maintaining a balance between individual freedom and social imperatives, with the content of political action at any given time or place determined by whether the society has moved too far in either direction. There is much common sense here, and a laudable intention to develop principles that can be applied in the real world. Unfortunately, more effort goes into rebutting critics and splitting hairs with other communitarians than into sustained consideration of substantive issues. Etzioni's interest in extending arguments within the continuing intellectual debate is understandable, but for anyone not directly involved in the discussion, other concerns are more important. His use of the golden rule when prescribing policy for the US, for example, suffers from the unwarranted assumption that applying his principle is a relatively straightforward matter. Even if everyone were to accept balancing individual and social concerns as the appropriate goal, assessments of current conditions and the measures required to stabilize the scales are hardly uncontroversial judgments that follow easily from the premise. Etzioni's seemingly endless effort to find the middle ground leaves him with something more akin to Aristotle's golden mean than a rule, golden or otherwise, and more substantive work is needed to defend specific proposals. A thought-provoking work that needed to be more thoughtful to achieve its full potential. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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