The Good Citizen

David B. Batstone, Editor, Eduardo Mendieta, Editor, Robert N. Bellah, Contribution by Routledge $41 (144p) ISBN 978-0-415-92093-3
This collection of essays, according to the editors (who teach social ethics and philosophy, respectively, at the University of San Francisco), concerns ""citizenship, considered as an ideal and a practical identity, and embracing of both moral value and pragmatic institution."" It's a very mixed bag, however, which includes some fairly clear arguments but also some others that devolve into heavy-handed leftism or academic inscrutability. Sociologist Robert Bellah (Habits of the Heart) offers some practical advice: fight to reform global economic agreements like NAFTA; ""focus on the real problems of the underclass""; fuse the voluntary sector and the government. Undeterred by the widespread mockery of his concept of ""the politics of meaning"" (and his book of the same name), Tikkun founder Michael Lerner recognizes how liberals fixated on economics and rights issues ignore people's spiritual and psychological needs. But some essays contain overheated rhetoric: ""financial status determines whether one is deemed a criminal,"" declares Barbara Christian. Mendieta dismisses critics of identity politics by declaring neoliberal politics and economic restructuring the real causes of civic decline. Berkeley professor of rhetoric Judith Butler closes the book with an analysis of homosexuality in the military that founders on sentences like this: ""Only within that regulatory discourse is the performative power of homosexual self-ascription performatively produced."" Citizenship, presumably, requires a common language. Not enough of the essays in this collection take that to heart. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/30/1998
Release date: 12/01/1998
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