THE GOOD SOCIETY by Robert N. Bellah


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 Five academics (Bellah, Richard Madsen, William Sullivan, Ann Swidler, Steven Tipton) follow up an earlier work (Habits of the Heart, 1985, which examined America's conflict between individualism and social commitment) with one that focuses on institutions. After acknowledging that we all live in and through both private and public institutions (families, schools, corporations, the nation, etc.), Bellah and his colleagues argue that we as an American citizenry must take responsibility for our institutions if we are to create a more effective and morally conscious society. The days of the old ideal Lockean world, when Americans could autonomously control their own economic and social fates, are long over (if indeed they ever were); today, ``powerful forces affecting the lives of all of us are not operating under the norms of democratic consent.'' At the same time, most Americans fail to understand that ``autonomy, valuable as it is in itself, is only one virtue among others and that without such virtues as responsibility and care, which can be exercised only through institutions, [autonomy becomes] an empty form without substance.'' Bellah and his colleagues focus their arguments on four major arenas---the political economy; government, law and politics; education; and the political church---and throughout they provide much historical and philosophical background. They also offer suggestions on how to effect change. Surprisingly, the text, though occasionally dense and dogmatic, feels like the work of one mind. The writing could seldom be called inspired, but it is seamless, and ideas are presented in a logical, clear-cut fashion. An often incisive treatise that debunks some age-old truisms and sounds a cautiously optimistic note for the future.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-679-40098-2
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991


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