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Identity in Democracy 59972nd Edition

2.0 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0691120409
ISBN-10: 0691120404
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Are identity politics a needed defense against the tyranny of the majority, or a divisive impediment to the realization of individual rights and the common good? A little of both, and much more, according to this probing volume of political theory. Gutmann, a political philosopher, examines a wide variety of "identity groups" including religions, embattled cultural groups like French-Canadians, socially formative voluntary groups like the Boy Scouts; and "ascriptive groups" who bear an involuntary marker of difference, like racial minorities, homosexuals and the disabled. She argues that overlapping group identities are an inescapable part of every individual's political makeup, for good and ill. Identity groups have been in the forefront of efforts to expand individual rights and opportunity, she notes, and America's excessive economic inequality is in part due to the absence of a working-class identity politics that might bolster unions and demand more redistribution of wealth. On the other hand, identity groups like the Ku Klux Klan and orthodox religious groups that seek to curtail the rights of women pose a serious problem for democratic polities. Rather than being scapegoated or lumped in with other interest groups, identity groups must be carefully assessed to discern their alignment with fundamental democratic values of freedom, equality and opportunity. Gutmann's is a serious attempt to reconcile classical liberalism with contemporary multiculturalism. While it will not please ideologues on any side, her clear, nuanced and humane approach brings many valuable insights to this contentious debate.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

Typically, discussions of identity politics in American life are tinged with vitriol. Gutmann's book, by contrast, calms the debate with an unflappably reasonable analysis of the relationship between liberal democracy and associations based on race, creed, sexuality, or the like. She argues that, since humans are social creatures, identity politics is a permanent fixture of the political landscape. At best, identity groups can play a vital role in protecting the legitimate interests of their members. But Gutmann also cites examples—ranging from the Boy Scouts to a Pueblo woman punished by her tribe for marrying outside it—in which these groups have been oppressive to their own members and discriminatory toward outsiders. Gutmann suggests that we should judge identity groups on a case-by-case basis, assessing the specific work they do and remembering that the ultimate goal for any democracy is to insure "civic equality, equal freedom and opportunity" not for groups but for individuals.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; 59972nd edition (September 5, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691120404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691120409
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,633,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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We often hasten to judge a book like this by its content. Unfortunately, Amy Gutmann's manner of writing throws down so many hurdles to our comprehension that it is easy to lose sight of the substance for the poor medium through which it is communicated. This is a severe observation with which to begin a review, but it is an important one. Sometimes a writer's prose is challenging because he employs such an artistic flair and so much metaphor that we find it difficult to keep sight of the author's path — but we are at least able to say that the distractions are beautiful. Other times, however, we struggle to complete a book because the author has employed a prose that is unnecessarily repetitious, laden with jargon, and does a poor job of moving the reader from one idea to the next. These are the things that earn Gutmann's Identity in America a two-star rating.

If you are able to move beyond the introductory chapter (the most disorganized in the book, regrettably — first impressions matter), you will eventually be able to uncover some of the substance of Gutmann's project. She, like so many other modern liberals, is committed to making 21st century democratic regimes as inclusive as possible, which is to say, as diverse as possible. And not just diverse in the old multicultural sense, but diverse in the new sense that reality itself is dependent upon the subjective whims of individual will and creativity. Writing 12 years prior to the Caitlyn Jenner metamorphosis, Gutmann expresses sympathy toward the notion that "gender" is entirely independent of what would otherwise be considered a biological fact. Transgenderism along with race, sex, ethnicity, and handicap comprise only parts of the patternless quilt of modern democracy.
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