Is Democracy Possible Here?

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

Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 192
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Is Democracy Possible Here?
    Book Description:

    Politics in America are polarized and trivialized, perhaps as never before. In Congress, the media, and academic debate, opponents from right and left, the Red and the Blue, struggle against one another as if politics were contact sports played to the shouts of cheerleaders. The result, Ronald Dworkin writes, is a deeply depressing political culture, as ill equipped for the perennial challenge of achieving social justice as for the emerging threats of terrorism. Can the hope for change be realized? Dworkin, one the world's leading legal and political philosophers, identifies and defends core principles of personal and political morality that all citizens can share. He shows that recognizing such shared principles can make substantial political argument possible and help replace contempt with mutual respect. Only then can the full promise of democracy be realized in America and elsewhere.

    Dworkin lays out two core principles that citizens should share: first, that each human life is intrinsically and equally valuable and, second, that each person has an inalienable personal responsibility for identifying and realizing value in his or her own life. He then shows what fidelity to these principles would mean for human rights, the place of religion in public life, economic justice, and the character and value of democracy. Dworkin argues that liberal conclusions flow most naturally from these principles. Properly understood, they collide with the ambitions of religious conservatives, contemporary American tax and social policy, and much of the War on Terror. But his more basic aim is to convince Americans of all political stripes--as well as citizens of other nations with similar cultures--that they can and must defend their own convictions through their own interpretations of these shared values.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2727-5
    Subjects: Political Science, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-23)

    AMERICAN POLITICS are in an appalling state. We disagree, fiercely, about almost everything. We disagree about terror and security, social justice, religion in politics, who is fit to be a judge, and what democracy is. These are not civil disagreements: each side has no respect for the other. We are no longer partners in self-government; our politics are rather a form of war.

    The 2004 presidential election was sickeningly divisive. Republicans said that a victory for the Democratic candidate would threaten the survival, even the salvation, of the nation. Vice President Cheney said that a victory for John Kerry would...

    (pp. 24-51)

    THOUSANDS OF FANATICS around the world would be glad to die if they could kill Westerners—particularly Americans. They created an unbelievable catastrophe in September 2001, and they may already have weapons of apocalyptic murder that could dwarf the horror of that destruction. We are angry and we are also frightened. Information is our main defense; the more we know about the resources, identity, leaders, and plans of the terrorists the safer we are. One source of information is people: the people our military and police believe may be terrorists themselves or may at least have information about terrorists that...

    (pp. 52-89)

    AMERICA’S RELIGIOSITY is not new; America has been a religious country since its beginning. A great many more Americans than Europeans believe in an afterlife, the Virgin birth, and the biblical account of the creation, both of the universe and of human beings. Islamic nations are also very religious, of course, and our declared war on terror often seems an anachronistic religious war. Indeed, Bush once called it a crusade. Historians debate why religion has been so important here; many now think that religion has prospered, paradoxically, because America has no official or established religion as several other democracies have....

    (pp. 90-126)

    SO FAR, I HAVE discussed two of the most dramatic issues that seem to divide Americans into rival cultural camps, conservative and liberal or, if you prefer, red and blue. May we ignore the traditional rights of our own domestic criminal process in confronting the terrorist threat? What role should religion play in our politics, our government, and our public life? Now we take up a third issue that is equally divisive and has more consequence than either of those two for the day-to-day lives of almost all our citizens: taxes.

    In his first term, President Bush engineered very dramatic...

    (pp. 127-159)

    I HAVE PRESSED TWO main claims in this book. I said, first, that though we appear to be fiercely divided between two political cultures about human rights, religion, and taxes, among many other issues, we have not managed to construct even the beginnings of a decent public argument about these matters. Second, I suggested that we can construct an argument from common ground if we begin way back, at a distinctly philosophical level, in twin principles of human dignity that we almost all accept. But do we have the kind of political system that might accommodate a genuine debate?


    (pp. 160-164)

    I SAID THAT I wanted to start an argument, and I’ve done my best. I hope that whether you belong to the red nation or the blue, you have found something in what I’ve said to argue about and not only to cheer or hate. I set out, in the beginning, two basic principles of human dignity that I can now restate with certain refinements I added later. These principles hold, first, that each human life is intrinsically and equally valuable and, second, that each person has an inalienable personal responsibility for identifying and realizing value in his or her...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 165-170)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 171-177)