SEX AND SOCIAL JUSTICE

University of Chicago law and ethics professor Nussbaum combines feminist theory and an internationalist perspective to fashion a stunning defense of justice. In a series of works (Poetic Justice, 1996; The Therapy of Desire, 1994; etc.), Nussbaum has tried to demonstrate the value of philosophy to the practical matters of everyday life; she continues that work here. She begins with the assertion that justice consists of respecting the equal worth of all human beings, given the universal human capacities of choice and reasoning. An essential element of this respect is protecting the liberty of individuals to create lives of their own choosing. As women in general, as well as lesbian and gay men, have too often been denied such freedom, justice should be and is a central concern for feminism. Yet Western feminism itself has too often neglected the needs and conditions of women of the non-Western world. A feminist theory of justice must concern itself both with abstract liberties, such as freedom of expression, and the practical needs of nutrition, health, education, shelter, and physical safety. Against charges that her vision of justice is a foreign idea being imposed upon other cultures, she argues that she is defending the creation of space in which free choice for all, including women, actually exists. In another vein, against those who would impose a rigid cultural relativism, she argues that local tradition is not always an inviolable code that must remain unchallenged. Such traditions may simply reflect the most powerful voices—invariably male. We must be suspicious of norms formed under conditions of injustice. All these themes are developed in a series of carefully crafted essays. There are weaknesses here. Questions of sexuality are not particularly well integrated within her arguments, and as she admits, she does not deal with the question of global redistribution of wealth as an essential element of justice. Nevertheless, a brilliant book.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-19-511032-3

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1998

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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