THE MONOCHROME SOCIETY

Amitai Etzioni, Author . Princeton Univ. $24.95 (309p) ISBN 978-0-691-07090-2

"Young drug dealers, caught for the first time peddling, should be sent home with their heads shaved and without their pants instead of being jailed," proposed noted sociologist Etzioni (The New Golden Rule) to his more liberal friends, who rejected his idea forthrightly. But in "Is Shaming Shameful?," one of 13 essays here, he makes the case that a community's cultivated sense of personal shame—including signs on the lawns of pedophiles and DUI bumper stickers on the cars of convicted drunk drivers—is a civil, and useful, form of social regulation and inculcation of personal responsibility. Always provocative and thoughtful, he charts how racial polarities are changing and potentially disappearing in U.S. culture, and what this means for a society based on the contradiction of pluralism and uniform national identity. While some of Etzioni's suggestions—such as public shaming, the promotion of "virtues" over "values" and his arguments against extending the First Amendment to children—may appear to line up with the political and religious right, he is careful in his dialogue here with Robert P. George to separate himself from traditionally conservative politics. Though Etzioni, a professor at George Washington University, is frequently extremely insightful, as in his discussion of the social role that public holidays play in structuring moral education within the family unit, his theoretical claims can also feel shortsighted. He doesn't, for instance, consider possible vigilantism against those publicly shamed. But even when inflammatory, Etzioni is always thoughtful and deliberate. (May)

Reviewed on: 05/07/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
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