A readable collection of essays that applies communitarian thinking to an array of issues, from multiculturalism and holidays to criminal justice and utopia.
Etzioni (Sociology/George Washington Univ.) wants to build a communitarian society that “combines the quest for social order, based largely on voluntary commitment of the members, with . . . opportunities for individual and subgroup expression, and with secure political freedoms.” Here he advances that agenda not through a sustained polemic but through an assortment of previously published essays revised for this collection. In the title piece, he examines the increasing ethnic and racial diversity in America and argues, against those who foresee multicultural splintering, that the core “American creed” of values is likely to persist. He sympathetically examines “shaming” punishments as alternatives to incarceration, analyzes and promotes “voluntary simplicity” as an alternative to unmitigated consumerism, and touches on current-affairs and theoretical topics (from virtual communities and V-chips to social norms and cross-cultural moral judgments). This grab-bag of topics sometimes blurs the focus, as do the variations in tone (from the accessible public intellectual to the sociologist talking shop). But, for the most part, the author’s clarity and reasonableness unite the volume, as do his overarching themes: that communities can and should foster virtue without violating individual rights (i.e., they should be “Salem without Witches”), that the moral voice of the community is to be preferred to state coercion as a means of fostering virtue, and that communities should determine shared values not arbitrarily but in line with “self-evident” universal virtues. Despite his reliance on sociological evidence and methods, Etzioni admittedly and refreshingly crosses the line between sociology and ethics, eschewing value-neutrality to advocate a society that is not just civil but good.
Sometimes diffuse, more often enlightening: essays that make good individual points and together form a social philosophy worth considering. (Illustrations, not seen)