cover image The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens

The Bill of Obligations: The Ten Habits of Good Citizens

Richard Haass. Penguin Press, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-56065-4

American democracy is gravely threatened by political polarization, according to this disappointing treatise by Council on Foreign Relations president Haass (The World). At the root of the problem is a political culture that “concerns itself only with protecting and advancing individual rights”; his solution is the fostering of a “culture of obligation” focused on what citizens owe each other and their government. After sketching the role that “inequality of opportunity” and other factors have played in increasing political partisanship, Haass outlines 10 countermeasures, calling on citizens and lawmakers to “Be Informed,” “Value Norms,” “Remain Civil,” and “Stay Open to Compromise.” The entries include positive and negative examples (good: Al Gore accepting the 2000 election results; bad: Nancy Pelosi tearing up Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech), brief history lessons, and earnest discourses on the value of democracy. At times, Haass’s statements are so banal as to be nearly pointless (“There are... significant problems with resorting to physical violence in pursuit of political goals”). More frustratingly, he refuses to fully acknowledge the asymmetrical nature of the problem he’s rightly concerned about, suggesting at one point that it’s “debatable” whether Republicans would have supported Obamacare had Democrats been more willing to compromise, but making no mention of the Tea Party. This is more of a deflection than a reckoning. (Jan.)