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Is Democracy Possible Here?: Principles for a New Political Debate unknown Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0691138725
ISBN-10: 0691138729
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  • Is Democracy Possible Here?: Principles for a New Political Debate
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rarely has partisan rhetoric been more divisive or political bickering more infantile than over the last few election cycles. In this short book, Dworkin, a professor of law and philosophy at New York University and Oxford University, argues that liberals and conservatives must realize that each camp is working for the same goal of a better nation. Dworkin (Law's Empire) builds this work on the assertion that most Americans accept certain fundamental principles, the most important of which are the beliefs that "each human life has a special kind of objective value" and "each person has a special responsibility for realizing the success of his own life." From these conventionally conservative maxims, Dworkin constructs an unmistakably liberal legal framework, coming down in favor of due process for terror suspects, same-sex marriage, abortion rights and progressive taxation and social welfare policies. Written in simple and sometimes repetitive language, some of the book's sections are more compelling than others. The too-brief passage on abortion, for instance, is unlikely to make any converts, and the final chapter, on tax-and-spend policies, may strike some as naïve. Though his claim that democracy is imperiled by a dearth of rational public debate is certainly overblown, Dworkin's book deserves careful consideration and response. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Of the season's books deploring the quality of our political discourse, the classiest is Ronald Dworkin's Is Democracy Possible Here?"--Michael Kinsley, New York Times

"Can it be legitimate to set aside the normal constitutional rights to privacy and to freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention--or from being tortured, in the case of suspected terrorists? Can we balance their rights against the risk to other people's right to life itself, so as to justify some downgrading of rights of terrorist suspects? With painstaking clarity Dworkin shows how such a preparedness selectively to downgrade protection of fundamental rights offends the deepest principles of the US Constitution, when in turn we read these as concretizing more fundamental principles of human dignity...Is Democracy Possible Here? is a strong opening statement in this hoped-for debate, from a resolutely liberal stance."--Neil MacCormick, Times Literary Supplement

"Ronald Dworkin . . . argues that liberals and conservatives must realize that each camp is working for the same goal of a better nation. . . . Dworkin's book deserves careful consideration and response."--Publishers Weekly

"A perceptive and penetrating book. Mr. Dworkin's distinction between a tolerant religious community and a tolerant secular community, and his argument about balancing security against honor and not against rights, should be required reading for every American."--The New York Observer

"[Dworkin's] object is not to confirm liberals' prejudices, whether well or ill founded. It is to argue a way out of prejudices on both sides: he does it with grace and, for the most part, with justice. . . . [T]he book has real value. For its purpose is to remind us that a healthy debate is impossible without a culture of argument and a desire by political leaders to find an agreement to differ based on mutual recognition of the nature of the issue and its centrality to political life."--John Lloyd, Financial Times

"Eminent philosopher Dworkin . . . attempts to address our 'degraded politics,' which he believes threaten the legitimacy of America's political order, by proposing two principles that can be shared even among those on opposite edges of today's political divides: that each human life has objective value and that each person has responsibility for realizing the potential of his or her own life. . . . [This is] among the most accessible of Dworkin's many books."--Robert F. Nardini, Library Journal (starred review)

"Is Democracy Possible Here? is not a work of political theory, but an intervention in the nation's political culture. . . . [Ronald Dworkin's] openness to political dialogue is, ultimately, what makes Is Democracy Possible Here? such a constructive book."--Mike O'Connor, Austin American-Statesman

"There is much to recommend in Dworkin's short book. . . . His quest to discover the common ground he and his fellow citizens actually share is admirable. His recognition that the common ground is to be found in widely shared and deeply held premises about the equality and freedom of all is sound. And his case on behalf of progressive reform . . . is elegantly put and will provide fellow left-liberals with fresh inspiration and conservatives with fresh challenges."--Peter Berkowitz, First Things

"Ronald Dworkin's latest masterpiece . . . will appeal to anyone interested in learning more about the current state of American politics. As well, it will also appeal to anyone interested in political pedagogy and contemporary politics. Here, they will find a rich source of material regarding the social and political debates of this time. Dworkin has succeeded in providing an historical context for his two core principles of American democracy, and his account of the current lack of debate within the public sphere will bring new frontiers of inquiry to readers of all political, legal, and moral backgrounds. This is a book that deserves thoughtful consideration and engaged response; I highly recommend it."--Stephanie Zubcic Stacey, European Legacy

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; unknown edition (July 21, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691138729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691138725
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 0.6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,045 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dworkin begins with the premise that there are two fundamental values upon which our decisions as human beings and as Americans must be made: each human life is intrincially and equally valuable; each person has an inalienable personal responsibility for identifying and realizing value in his or her own life (choice). He argues that almost all humans in the United States (and other like minded western countries) would agree with these premises.

The rest of the book then is to show how if we accept these premises then we must agree on certain other policies: with regards to terrorism, we must not unlawfully hold anyone imprisoned; with regards to religion we must uphold a tolerant secular state (not a tolerant religious state); with regards to poverty, we must develop ex ante programs that provide "insurance" to all people that would be the least a reasonable person would expect for him/herself; and with regards to political structure, we must accept political argument and respect not just the majority rules.

Unfortunately, as well argued and reasoned as his positions are, the fundamental assumption he makes is not without problems. Would all people agree that those two principles are the MOST important? I think not. He briefly addresses those who would disagree (as he provides counter arguments for all his positions), but his attempt to argue us in to agreeing with these principles is not altogether convincing in and of themselves.

Clearly, many of us hold different fundamental principles (that we may not like to acknowledge--greed for example) but regardless of their error or unpleasantness, they will not go away in the face of reasoned argument.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having weathered another election cycle of verbal and emotional combat between the polarized "red" and "blue" electorate, one begins to wonder if there is any common ground for constructive political debate in our contentious democracy. In his new book, legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin answers in the affirmative. He believes that there are certain principles on which both sides can agree. Problems, however, arise when these principles are applied to making concrete policy decisions.

Dworkin sets forth two principles of human dignity to which all parties can agree: 1) "that each human life is intrinsically and equally valuable," and 2) "that each person has an inalienable personal responsibility for identifying and realizing value in his or her life."

These principles are highly abstract and probably most parties would disagree on their application. The improvement in political debate here lies in the fact that debates can go back to a common starting point rather than having parties try to demonize and discredit each other as if they had mutually exclusive worldviews.

In the application of these principles to the policy on torture of enemy combatants, I found Dworkin's views recognizable because they coincide with my own. The use of torture is clearly at odds with any principle of human dignity and should be condemned. However, there are extreme and unique situations where torture may extract information that could save thousands of lives. How does one balance this against human dignity? Dworkin seems to suggest that we do a cost/benefit analysis - typical of legal thinkers. And I tend to agree. However, it is a problematic area and remains unresolved.

On the issue of capital punishment Dworkin tries to show two sides of the argument.
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Format: Paperback
"We need to find ways not merely to struggle against one another about [political issues], as if politics were contact sports, but to argue about them from deeper principles of personal and political morality that we can all respect" (xi).

As a moral non-realist in search of near-universal principles centered on shared human concerns and desires, I readily sympathize with Dworkin's goal. And indeed, in the current climate of recession, division, cynicism, and pessimism, it is difficult not to sympathize. As Dworkin notes, "American politics are in an appalling state. We disagree, fiercely, about almost everything" (p.1). But as an avid follower of politics, I seem some hope: in America, there appears to be an overwhelming popular consensus against the shameless business orientation of our parties, and there is also a general agreement on elementary safety-net measures - despite its absence among our congressmen. But as an avid follower of politics - especially the politics of secularism - I rather wonder how this might be accomplished. So-called `culture warriors' quite openly take their idiosyncratic values and denials as basic, incontestable truths. For those who oppose the program of the religious right, marginalization must be the strategy following the failure of argument. We are fortunate that this group is as marginal as it is - bloated and overrepresented as it is. But it is a constant threat to any hope of shared premises. This religious style in American politics changes; but as Hofstadter diagnosed the `paranoid style' (there's another issue), the `theocratic style' has always been with us. And it will continue to be with us.

Why is this example so important?
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