While more compelling for its articulate announcement of crisis than for its proposed solution, Dworkin’s study of what we...

SOVEREIGN VIRTUE

THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF EQUALITY

A case for equality as a policy-guiding principle in contemporary democracy, written by noted legal philosopher Dworkin (Freedom’s Law, 1996, etc.).

Lawmakers in the post–Cold War “third way” democracies choose to protect individual liberty at the expense of equality, according to Dworkin. As he sees it, the consequences of this course (particularly in the US) are severe: the failure of health care and campaign finance reform, welfare cutbacks, and the elimination of affirmative action. More alarming to Dworkin, however, is the degree to which these policies reflect a lack of “equal concern” for individuals, which he calls the “indispensable virtue” of legitimate sovereigns. Rejecting the idea that liberty and equality are mutually exclusive ideals, Dworkin outlines a second chance for “third way” democracies. A legitimate government’s objective, he insists, must be to insure that the “fates” of individuals are “insensitive” to their identities but “sensitive” to their choices. It accomplishes this by providing for equality through the initial outlay of resources, with citizens accepting responsibility for subsequent, freely made choices. Part I, comprised largely of theoretical pieces written in the 1980s, explores the intersection of equality, liberty, and community in hypothetical scenarios. Anyone frustrated by Dworkin’s customarily high level of abstraction will be heartened by Part II, which is considerably more earthbound and nearly self-contained. These more recent, policy-based chapters on campaign finance reform, affirmative action, genetic technology, and euthanasia, among other issues, are thick with rigorous case analysis and fascinating data about the state of equality and liberty. This section is particularly valuable for its presentation of practical policy issues along with the theoretical penumbras emanating from them.

While more compelling for its articulate announcement of crisis than for its proposed solution, Dworkin’s study of what we “can and must do” to “redeem our political virtue” sounds a distressing alarm.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-674-00219-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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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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