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In this idiosyncratic but convincing cry against state-sanctioned violence, Dunbar (The Common Interest, 1988) affirms the right to live as democracy's highest principle and its pursuit as every liberal's calling. Describing liberalism as an empty vessel that embodies the needs of the people as they evolve, Dunbar defines its most pressing current task as the reaffirmation of the individual's ""right to live."" Nations go to war to protect the status quo, claims Dunbar, sacrificing their individual citizens' right to life; except for maintaining the nation's capability for self-determination, he says, no principle is worth such a sacrifice. Extending his definition of the ""right to live"" beyond the right not to participate in government crusades in Panama, Nicaragua, and Vietnam to the rights of serf-determination, dignity, etc., Dunbar denounces domestic state-sanctioned violence as well--often justified by official ""wars"" against drugs, Communism, and so on. The diversion of government money, brain-power, and skills from the eradication of poverty to the increasing of military strength heightens the danger of violent rebellion by poor citizens denied their right to self-determination, thus ""justifying"" a violent reaction by the state. Short-term solutions to this endless cycle are not within Dunbar's grasp: admitting that the elimination of state-sanctioned violence is unlikely to occur soon, he expresses a belief that this country is ""made up of a great lot of good people,"" and a hope that the rights of individual citizens may eventually overpower and defeat the powerholders' right to kill. A weak hope, perhaps, but Dunbar sets out an intriguing and thought-provoking philosophical framework for liberals, worthy of serious consideration.

Pub Date: Nov. 26th, 1990
Publisher: Norton