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Showing 1-7 of 7 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 10 reviews
on August 21, 2011
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.

Dworkin makes the mistake, I think, of using reasoned argument against people who are not remotely interested in the flaws in their logic. So, while I enjoyed reading the book and found it illuminating and something with which there is much to debate, I don't think the people who I would debate with would be those that disagree with the book (I don't think most of those people would bother to read it).
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on October 17, 2016
It would be wonderful if the general electorate would accept the author's premises, but it's naive to think this is reasonably possible. The references to 'W' Bush era issues is rather dated in 2016.
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on June 24, 2013
Great essay by one of the greatest american jurists, recently lost to the grief of the scholar community, Dworkin explores some of the most recent themes that reflect flaws on the american concept of democracy and respect to human rights. A must read to englobe the wide vision that this author developed throughout his career.
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on December 7, 2006
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. Being a liberal, he is personally against capital punishment. On the other hand, he argues that death as punishment is not at odds with human dignity. A death penalty advocate would argue that there are issues of deterence and retribution that must be observed. Again this opens the debate to other sets of issues. Where does one draw the line on human dignity?

These two examples illustrate how difficult it is to achieve a substantive political debate as opposed to the disparagement and invective that we witness today. Dworkin's principles are hard to disagree with, and he clearly illustrates the problems we get into if we deviate too far from these principles. This book is an interesting and useful contribution to the need for civilizing our current political debate.
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on January 4, 2007
Only Dworkin can get you back to understanding just how important principles are to decision making. "Principles Matter" (his best work in my opinion), and now he applies that same logic to preserving democracy in a world where we are continously befuddled by mass media and political spin bent on stirring our emotions. Anything to keep you "tuned in" and riled.

His arguements are solid, as always. Even if you prefer other "principles", you have to respect his approach and where his values weigh in on critical decision making. Dworkin has a way of revealing to the reader just what principles he or she are applying and sometimes we come away horrified at your own logic, which, of course, we thought was flawless. This book helps us take stock of own own opinions and how we can be more constructive towards preserving the democracy we all believe we cherish. Somewhere we need a divisor to utilize against the bombardment of mass communication and political belligerence. This is an excellent beginning.
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I bought this book on the basis of the title, with no idea of the author's deep history of accomplishments. This is a lovely book, largely an essay. The author opens by telling us he is concerned about the lack of political argument (dialog) in the USA, including substantive coherent dialog about core issues such as:

1. Nature and role of human rights in defining legitimate behavior by both individuals and governments

2. Role of religion in politics and governance

3. Distribution of community's economic wealth

I bring back from page 125 the following superb quote: "But our national politics fails the standard of even a decent junior high school debate."

And on page 127: "So Americans are horribly misinformed and ignorant about the most important issues." This is true. What he does not tell us, which we learn in the following book, is that all of our politicians and their so-called "advisors" are equally ignorant. See: Security Studies for the 21st Century

I was in error when I first thought the author was a conservative, forming that impression from the index and the endnotes, where I usually start a book. He is rather a very educated and philosophically well-grounded person of liberal to centrist perspective, and I found this book to be sensible, easy to read, and compelling.

The book could not be more timely for me (published in 2006) as I wathc Senators Clinton and Obama behave like children and avoid substantive policy backed up by a balanced budget they are both incapable of producing, while Senator McCain gets a "bye" and is not asked any tough questions at all (for 52 tough questions and transpartisan "starter" answers, visit the 501c3 Public Charity, Earth Intelligence Network).

The author, with a deep legal understanding and much work previous to this book, probes how character and forms of governance and politics shape the decisions we make.

He labels partisanship destructive, and puts forward his view that despite the superficial divide between "red" and "blue" he believes we can still come together at a deeper level of understanding such that we can overcome partisanship. I urge one and all to visit Reuniting America and especially their page on transpartisanship, it is consistent with what this author presents to all of us for consideration.

He specifically labels campaign rhetoric from 2004 to be shallow, as shallow as any since the last substantive debates in America, between Lincoln and Douglas (he says, I agree although Kennedy and Nixon I thought did well).

The author identifies his agenda in two parts: to explore how we might find shared principals, and to explore how such might lead to good outcomes for the Nation as a whole.

He puts forward three propositions early on:

1. Equal rights for all, meaning that both US citizens and foreigners (e.g. the ones in Guantanamo) should be treated equally, i.e. human rights should prevail here and both groups have equal right to dignity and justice and equality.

2. No television advertisements for political campaigns in the months leading up to an election.

3. Poor merit special protection and consideration as part of establishing the legitimacy of government and the equality of all (e.g. the poor cannot insure themselves the way the wealthy can). At a stratgeic level, there is no finer book than Max Manwaring (ed)'s The Search for Security: A U.S. Grand Strategy for the Twenty-First Century.

The author lists and discusses two dimensions of human dignity:

1. Human life as having special intrinsic value

2. Each person bears responsibility for themselves

He suggests that in discussion political versus human rights, the latter is the more stringent test, and I agree, as one of those who signed the letter to Senator McCain opposing torture by CIA or the US military. The author clearly states that to treat the "enemy combatants" as we have is to declare them to be less than human.

He places great emphasis on the importance of dignity for all, and I am reminded of the superb book, All Rise: Somebodies, Nobodies, and the Politics of Dignity (BK Currents)

He suggests that the religious clash in America is not about the more fundamental issue of faith and the value of faith, but rather about the role of religion in national life. The author leans toward the belief that we should (as the founding fathers intended, see Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, be tolerant with selected unitarian references to God (e.g. in the Pledge of Allegiance, in coin) but not--as most extreme right fundamentalists would have, as a "Christian Nation." As the author of Founding Faith makes clear, the latter is simply not an option.

The author states that we need to have a faith-based dialog between left and right, and I agree, while also noting we need to do this at an international level, where we are long overdue for a global Truth and Reconciliation Commission on what damages America has wrought "in our name" but against our public moral faith. A couple books worth close scrutiny (or at least read my reviews:

God's Politics LP
Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik

The author addresses liberty as not just being freedom, and defines it rirectly as the right to do what you want with the resources that are rightfully yours. That last bit is of course subject to long discourse: is Exxon entitled to $40 billion in profit while externalizing $12 in costs to the planet and future generations? Is Wal-Mart entitled to profits and the abuse of most of its employees while destroying small busiunesses for 150 miles around each Wal-Mart, and destroying the South Pacific off the coast of Chile so as to produce cheap fish while killing all life on the ocean bottom there? See my many lists.

The author specifically confronts and rejects the "culture of life" as being a compulsory sort of paternalistic and judgemental intrusion into our liberty. He defends abortion by pointing out that the fetus, while undeniably alive (so is a cancer) has no mind and hence no intersts. I for one place higher status on the mother's desires and needs in the first tri-mester.

He strongly supports gay "marriage" as a loving contract, and demands scientific proof before being willing to consider "intelligent design" (in passing I note that Germany has declared Scientology to be a cult, and outlawed it. I am reminded of the excellent book, Forbidden Knowledge: From Prometheus to Pornography.

He provides an excellent discussion of how legitimacy in political authority stems from shared morality and balanced equality, and on this basis believes that the poor merit special consideration. He does not address how corporations should be deprived of their abuse of the personality privilege.

He tells us that a big reason the conservatives want to cut taxes is their desire to end the "welfare" state. From where I sit, we do need a smaller government but until labor unions are restored, and the Secretary of the Treasury starts to do his job instead of fronting for Wall Street against the public interest, I believe the author is on target and merits our respectful attention.

I completely agree with him on the indefensability of the gap between rich and poor in America, and elsewhere.

The book draws to a close with two contrasting views of what comprises a democracy, the one being majoritarian, the other in which We the People are full partners and the majority cannot impose its views on the minority, whose rights and views must be treated with respect and protectied. Here I point the reader to the formidably scathing Running On Empty: How The Democratic and Republican Parties Are Bankrupting Our Future and What Americans Can Do About It. BOTH parties are nothing more than two branches of a single organized-crime family, and both should be forced to pass the Electoral Reform Act before November 2008, or every incumbent dismissed and the two parties vanquished by Independents, Greens, Reforms, Libertarians, moderate Fiscal Conservatives, and conservative Southern Democrats.

He closes the book calling for equality for all, and dramatically increased self-government. He says we MUST do better in Education (I am reminded of Thomas Jefferson, "A Nation's best defense is an educated citizenry"), and calls for public election channels, the regulation of private networking (to which I would add Open Spectrum), the Right of Comment (e.g. on Jack Cafferty saying "Ralph Nader should be batted away like a fly"), and on term-limits for Supreme Court justices, he suggests 10 years.

As I contemplate the existence of 27 secessionist movements in the United States; the collapse of the Federal government whose ineptness is virtually complete, the criminality in the White House, hijacked by Dick Cheney, I have to come down strongly in favor of a public demand for a Constitutional Convention in 2009, making that the litmus test for any candidate. NONE of the three is qualified to govern in their present condition. We may yet need a third party candidate with a transpartisan cabinet, a balanced budget, a commitment to both Electoral Reform and a Consttutional Convention (see also Our Undemocratic Constitution: Where the Constitution Goes Wrong (And How We the People Can Correct It))

My review does not do this author justice. His book is elegant, thoughtful, philosophical, balanced, not at all confrontational, and the best thing I can say of this book is that I had to read it and think about it. This is a first-class piece of work, one the Founding Fathers would have found worthy.

See also The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World and my many lists on the Earth Threats (10) Earth Policies (12) and Earth Challengers (8).
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on February 13, 2013
I gave up on this, even after trying to get into it twice.

After way too much introduction, Dworkin proudly announces that he has discovered two basic principles on which we can all agree, that will allow us to engage in meaningful, civilized dialogue about complicated political issues. . First, that "each human life has a special kind of objective value." Perhaps, although folk like Hitler, Mao, Stalin and Attila the Hun leap to mind. And second, that "each person has a special responsibility for realizing the success of his own life." Perhaps, but I wondered about the mentally defective, and about current studies of human conduct, some of which insist that what anyone does is a result of involuntary responses to stimuli.

Having earlier been told that Dworkin considers himself a liberal, and that he is a college professor, I concluded that there must be things to do more worthwhile than seeing how he navigated these shoals.. Even if he succeeded, there would be a zero chance that a book full of intellectual posturing would be useful as a tool towards a better democracy. And from at least one of the reviews I found that he didn't manage to get past the abortion issue. So why bother?

So I moved on to other books.
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