- EphBlog - http://ephblog.com -

Domineering State

Great book review from Professor Darel Paul:

About halfway through his new book, ­Christopher Caldwell quotes John Stuart Mill on the relationship between diversity and democracy: “Free institutions are next to impossible in a country made up of different nationalities.” This sentiment haunts The Age of Entitlement. Ostensibly about “America Since the Sixties,” the book is really about rights—in particular, civil rights—and the national consequences of their expansion during the past sixty years in the context of deepening diversity. Race occupies center stage, particularly as the book reaches its concluding chapters. Yet Caldwell also shows how the civil rights movement of the 1960s set the “template” used by every group claiming rights in its wake: women, immigrants, gays and lesbians, transgendered persons. The outcome has not been the more perfect union promised by civil rights, but social inequality, political polarization, and a domineering state.

A yearning for less bureaucratic and judicial rule and more self-government animates The Age of Entitlement. I have the same desire. In the balance between liberalism and democracy, Caldwell is correct to say that America today has too much of the former and too little of the latter. Yet the way to get more democracy is not through more rights talk. It is instead through recovering (and inventing anew) an alternative vision of responsibility and sociality. Only with such a vision can we cultivate the fellow-feeling that is necessary for democracy.

With luck, that vision will be Paul’s next book.