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The Politics Of Meaning: Restoring Hope And Possibility In An Age Of Cynicism Paperback – June 10, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Michael Lerner, former radical and crusading editor of the magazine of Jewish thought,Tikkun, has never lost his idealism. Until now Lerner has been promoting his ideas, dubbed "the politics of meaning," through his magazine and in lectures and workshops around the country. He won praise from Hillary Clinton, although that soured under media spotlight. This book lays out his analysis of America's spiritual emptiness, encouraging direct political action to enlarge the sense of community. He rejects both the right's profit-oriented bottom line and the left's splintering of society into minority rights ghettoes. Though his ideas are rooted in Judaism, his concept of God is broadly inclusive, and his critique is relevant to all Americans. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

As ongoing editorial leader of the Jewish-ecumenical Tikkun, Lerner has long been among the more humanistic and balanced thinkers rooted in the New Left. Here he writes explicitly in response to the premature pronouncements that the American public has decisively embraced a New Right orientation. He is not that concerned with the particulars of current politics, which is a pity for readers who will otherwise accept his basic orientation. Lerner's thesis boils down to the notion that Americans today are hungry for values and that through "politics of meaning," not mere materialism but ethical behavior and community-thoughtfulness, they can achieve an alternative orientation to an alienating market that presently wears down family and spirituality. The book's final pages, which regret that the Clintons have not stood by principles that at moments seemed harmonious with Lerner's, are rousing, even remarkable, and his thoughts on an array of controversies from affirmative action to movies merit respect. But Lerner's ideas, whatever their quality, are overwrapped in redundant platitudes and wearisome slogans. Overall, a boring book filled with significant notions.?Scott H. Silverman, Bryn Mawr Coll. Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 10, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201154897
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201154894
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.7 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,112,738 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 7, 1999
Format: Paperback
This book was a clarion call to the utter self-destruction of American politics and progressivism that we have witnessed with Monicagate and Clinton's even more public affair with "the inexorable logic of globalization." Lerner offers the best explanation I have ever read of why and how conservatives have been so successful during the past two decades in transforming the public debate to their agendas, and why the traditional Left remains incapable of offering a coherent reply to the seeming triumph of the neo-liberal, hyper-consumerist world view that increasingly dominates our culture. I would urge anyone who wants to move beyond the sterile and outdated philosophies and politics of Left/Right and Democrat/Republican to read this book!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 1999
Format: Paperback
Lerner both points out the moral bankruptcy of the neo-right's "every man for himself" (particularly men, particularly white and wealthy) world-view, and also provides a vision for the future of compassionate *and* workable politics, economics, and community. Like Robert Theobald's "Reworking Success," or Thom Hartmann's "The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight" and "The Prophet's Way" (all highly recommended and available on amazon.com), Lerner courageously confronts us with the problems we face and offers realistic solutions. Highly recommended!
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on January 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
The author's central premise seems to be that despite a consumer culture run amok and any number of examples of a society unraveled, such as the anonymity of the suburbs, gratuious corporate downsizings, the rise of hate-radio, etc, that the public really does hunger for meaning, spirtuality, recognition, and connectedness. In other words, there is an untapped social solidarity waiting for the right situation to transform society into one that cares for all citizens.
The problem is that the author presents little evidence for any such belief other than his desire for this to become a reality. No evidence is presented to indicate that substantial numbers of people even understand the dysfunctionality of their lives and of society and what actions to take both personally and within the larger society.
The author does demonstrate the rise of cynical pandering to social discomforts by the political right usually by scapegoating the disadvantaged as well as the government. He should have explored the propagandistic effects of the mass media and the educational system.
The author seems to be saying that if we are not really the self-centered, selfish people that we clearly demonstrate on a daily basis, we could have a good society where basic needs for physical and mental well-being could be meant. But that is a big if that the author cannot explain away. His calls for society-enhancing initiatives just have a hollow ring.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful By "clementineojukwu" on September 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
Rabbi Dr. Lerner has written a wonderful book about an idea whose time has come. If the media and politicians would act upon these ideas, our national life would benefit immeasurably. Rancor and discord would be replaced by harmony and dialogue. Senator Hilary Clinton embraced this book, and her espousal of its ideas no doubt helped her win election as our junior senator from New York.
Dr. Lerner is in the forefront of Jewish thought today. He seeks to engage the culture at large in a way that is beneficial for Jews and Gentiles alike. His efforts in this book and elsewhere are to be applauded.
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Format: Paperback
In the mid-90's, rabbi, psychologist, and Tikkun founder Michael Lerner sounded this clarion call: Something must be done about the widespread cynicism and disengagement that characterize our society.

Lerner's THE POLITICS OF MEANING was written during an era analogous to the present, when Clinton failed to hold onto his Democratic Congress. The book argues that both liberals and conservatives have failed to address the crisis of meaning created by the materialistic, self-centered value system enshrined by our market society. Conservatives talk about moral values, but support economic policies in which we're all expected to fend for ourselves with little social or environmental responsibility. By contrast, liberals support policies that mitigate some of the most egregious effects of the free market system, but fail to challenge the skewed values behind it. Further, even on issues like health care, morality is rarely part of the liberal framing. The Left offers a more systemic critique of our economic system, but one that is typically so rooted in materialism as to degrade humanity. Marx himself barely seemed to recognize humanity's capacity for anything other than the pursuit of material self-interest.

And therein lies much of the appeal of the Right. The Right actually addresses the hunger for meaning, albeit in ways that are often fundamentalist, repressive, and/or xenophobic. It's long been observed that people tend to look for scapegoats in times of economic distress ("Mexicans are stealing all our jobs" or "we're losing our jobs because blacks get special treatment" or "Jews control the economy and media"). But Lerner adds another dimension. For many, being un- or underemployed brings more than strictly economic pain.
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