cover image Vexed: Ethics Beyond Political Tribes

Vexed: Ethics Beyond Political Tribes

James Mumford. Bloomsbury Continuum, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4729-6634-6

Knotty partisan issues get an energetic rethink in this wide-ranging treatise in applied political ethics. Political philosopher Mumford (Ethics at the Beginning of Life) critiques ideological “package deals” —conservatives are pro-guns and antiabortion, for example, while liberals are antigun and pro-choice—by exposing the contradictions in a haphazard selection of policy stances. On the left, he argues, liberals’ support for physician-assisted suicide contradicts their commitment to protecting marginalized groups (namely sick, lonely old people), while modern hookup culture is a form of soulless sexual consumerism that progressives should deplore instead of condone. (“I want her to get to a nunnery,” he jokes of his own daughter.) On the right, he contends, conservatives’ “family values” clash with their resistance to unions that stabilize working-class families by improving wages and working conditions, while their support for legal restrictions on ex-convicts in hiring, voting, and renting undermines their ethos of personal responsibility. Mumford’s analyses are animated and fair-minded, but not always original; his claim that conservative pro-lifers should want to protect postpartum life through gun control, for example, is an old one that has persuaded few Second Amendment stalwarts. Mumford’s thought-provoking argument for ethical consistency fails to knock loose the entrenched dogmas fueling today’s political antagonisms. (May)