Essays exploring the meaning and nature of citizenship. In their introduction, Batstone and Mendieta (both of the University of San Francisco) challenge readers to truly consider what it means to be an American citizen. This challenge is well met and spurred on by this collection of essays written by some of America's most innovative social thinkers. The essayists agree that citizenship is a good thing, expressing the obligation each has to the community and the community in turn to individual autonomy. Two themes thus emerge. One is concerned with conditions that may be threatening this delicate balance between self and community. Cornel West worries that amid a culture of commodification and consumption, personal gratification will cause the American tradition of struggle for freedom and dignity to atrophy. Robert N. Bellah shows how the extreme polarization of wealth in America over the past two decades—among a few "haves," many more "have nots," and a struggling, frightened middle stratum—makes the notion of a common civic responsibility virtually impossible. The second theme is how citizenship is being, or ought to be, redefined. Batstone sees traditional communities being replaced by "the [communication] network society," which transcends borders and can inform and empower citizens in new, exciting ways. Barbara Christian examines two views of America, one based on race (whiteness) the other on contract and consent. She and other contributors focus on how diverse ethnic and racial groups might share in American citizenship without forfeiting the right to group self-definition. Judith Butler engages in a similar exercise concerning gay men and lesbians. All contributors are vaguely "on the left," though the "left" may have much to quibble with here—Bellah's emphasis on spirituality, Batstone's rosy image of the network society. Also, not all the essays are of equal quality. West is, as usual, eloquent and impassioned; Butler is, as usual, erudite yet so opaque as to be unreadable. Thoughtful and thought-provoking essays on a topic of inestimable importance.
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