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Liberalism with Honor Hardcover – May 15, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0674007567 ISBN-10: 0674007565

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From where, asks Krause, can a citizen draw the strength to resist trends that seem to fly in the face of the democratic principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence for example, the Jim Crow laws or the more recent referenda targeting gay rights? Krause, an assistant professor of government at Harvard, argues the case for the seemingly outmoded notion of personal honor as a source of such civic renewal. There is irony in this suggestion, of course, given honor's association with an aristocratic, class-based European past. Krause acknowledges this and takes pains to differentiate between the "aristocratic" honor of the old regime and the notion of honor in a liberal democracy. She differs from Tocqueville as well: Tocqueville despaired that Americans' focus on commercial enterprise, coupled with social leveling, would discourage the development of honorable citizens capable of standing up for liberty when necessary. In Krause's view, these fears were largely unfounded. Honorable citizens, she says, make up a "natural aristocracy" of those capable of defending core values despite personal risk. She examines the actions of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate how the impulse toward honor stems from a mix of altruism, a spirit of civic duty and a desire for public recognition. In some sense, therefore, an honorable act serves both society and the self. While Krause concedes that honor is relatively rare, she contends that its limitations "remind us of the irreducible multiplicity of human motivations." As this rather tepid conclusion illustrates, this discussion, despite the importance of its concepts, is directed at an academic audience.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The title of this work is misleading, as it is much more concerned with honor than with liberalism. Krause (government, Harvard Univ.) seeks to learn how and why people passionately defend individual liberties, even at great risk to themselves. Through a close reading of Montesquieu and Tocqueville, she identifies honor as a key source of "individual agency" and tries to reclaim it from a narrow association with elitism, the "old regime," and romanticism. She then examines the impact of honor in American politics, as conveyed through examples of Southern slaveholders as well as Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, the women's rights movement, Martin Luther King, and the Civil Rights Movement. Krause addresses the limitations of honor in the modern political system and looks at other contemporary interpretations. While this is a scholarly treatise, it is accessible to a wide range of readers. A solid companion to Joanne B. Freeman's recent Affairs of Honor: National Politics in the New Republic; recommended for most academic libraries. Thomas A. Karel, Franklin & Marshall Coll. Lib., Lancaster, PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674007565
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674007567
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,484,003 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Sabl on October 18, 2002
Format: Hardcover
This is a brilliant, learned, and wise book on why liberal democracies need honor, and how a supposedly outdated aristocratic ideal fuels movements for rights and justice. It belongs on the shelf next to the classic works on the rethinking of liberalism: Galston and Taylor, Rosenblum and Macedo and Walzer. With lovely prose and pinpoint analysis, Krause cuts across, through, and beyond the tired dichotomies--virtue vs. duty, self-interest vs. common concern--that characterize the debates among liberals and their critics. She is careful and convincing in responding to the usual (and reasonable) objections to an honor-based politics. The honor she defends is neither undemocratic, antimodern, nor opposed to the idea that everyone must play by the same rules. In fact, this book shows how honor was indispensable to the antislavery, suffrage, and Civil Rights causes: honor enables the great and risky actions we sometimes need to achieve equal liberty in the face of a larger society made passive by consensus and hopelessness. Krause thus helps us see that the system of rights and equal civic standing we rightly prize requires that we have at least some citizens, some of the time, who act on something more than narrow self interest--and less than altruism.
There are things one could object to in this book. Its antimajoritarianism may be a bit one-sided; its stress on honor may lead it to slight (unintentionally) the ordinary virtues short of honor that both movements and everyday life require. But these are quibbles. In its combination of canonical erudition, historical wisdom, and clear contemporary relevance, this book reminds us of how political theory can matter once more. Of more than academic interest, it helps us think through our political lives.
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