THE NEW GOLDEN RULE by Amitai Etzioni


Community and Morality in a Democratic Society
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 This chapter of sociologist Etzioni's (George Washington Univ.) ongoing communitarian campaign breaks new ground but ends up mired in intellectual bickering. Proponents of individual freedom find the communitarian emphasis on shared social values dangerously close to authoritarianism. Etzioni's current response to this fear is a reformulation of the golden rule: ``Respect and uphold society's moral order as you would have society respect and uphold your autonomy.'' For Etzioni (The Spirit of Community, 1993, etc.), following this rule in any society requires maintaining a balance between individual freedom and social imperatives, with the content of political action at any given time or place determined by whether the society has moved too far in either direction. There is much common sense here, and a laudable intention to develop principles that can be applied in the real world. Unfortunately, more effort goes into rebutting critics and splitting hairs with other communitarians than into sustained consideration of substantive issues. Etzioni's interest in extending arguments within the continuing intellectual debate is understandable, but for anyone not directly involved in the discussion, other concerns are more important. His use of the golden rule when prescribing policy for the US, for example, suffers from the unwarranted assumption that applying his principle is a relatively straightforward matter. Even if everyone were to accept balancing individual and social concerns as the appropriate goal, assessments of current conditions and the measures required to stabilize the scales are hardly uncontroversial judgments that follow easily from the premise. Etzioni's seemingly endless effort to find the middle ground leaves him with something more akin to Aristotle's golden mean than a rule, golden or otherwise, and more substantive work is needed to defend specific proposals. A thought-provoking work that needed to be more thoughtful to achieve its full potential.

Pub Date: Jan. 29th, 1997
ISBN: 0-465-05297-5
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1996


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