Attention Deficit Democracy

Attention Deficit Democracy: The Paradox of Civic Engagement

BEN BERGER
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 216
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7src3
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  • Book Info
    Attention Deficit Democracy
    Book Description:

    Handwringing about political apathy is as old as democracy itself. As early as 425 BC, the playwright Aristophanes ridiculed his fellow Athenians for gossiping in the market instead of voting. In more recent decades, calls for greater civic engagement as a democratic cure-all have met with widespread agreement. But how realistic--or helpful--is it to expect citizens to devote more attention and energy to politics? InAttention Deficit Democracy, Ben Berger provides a surprising new perspective on the problem of civic engagement, challenging idealists who aspire to revolutionize democracies and their citizens, but also taking issue with cynics who think that citizens cannot--and need not--do better.

    "Civic engagement" has become an unwieldy and confusing catchall, Berger argues. We should talk instead of political, social, and moral engagement, figuring out which kinds of engagement make democracy work better, and how we might promote them. Focusing on political engagement and taking Alexis de Tocqueville and Hannah Arendt as his guides, Berger identifies ways to achieve the political engagement we want and need without resorting to coercive measures such as compulsory national service or mandatory voting.

    By providing a realistic account of the value of political engagement and practical strategies for improving it, while avoiding proposals we can never hope to achieve,Attention Deficit Democracymakes a persuasive case for a public philosophy that much of the public can actually endorse.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4031-1
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. Chapter 1 INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-23)

    THIS BOOK ABOUT what Americans do and think begins by analyzing how we talk and write. The premise is that language matters; our choice of words may reflect or even affect our frames of mind. To borrow from Max Weber, humans are “suspended in webs of significance that [we ourselves have] spun,” ensnared in the logic that our choice of words dictates.¹ Such is the case with civic engagement. Born of a movement to analyze, promote, and possibly save democracy, nurtured with the best of intentions, the termcivic engagementhas grown out of control and has outlived its purpose,...

  5. Chapter 2 THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
    (pp. 24-51)

    I HAVE ALREADY BEGUN the case against civic engagement. In this chapter I introduce further evidence that consigns the term to exile or obsolescence, including an overview of its short but mischievous life. I will also expound on my proposed replacements. We need a richer vocabulary to help us think and talk about the various kinds of attention and activity that help to make democracy work.

    Some might doubt whether we can or should distinguish among political, social, and moral engagements. Not only can we, but Hannah Arendt correctly asserts that we ignore those distinctions at our peril. To Arendt,...

  6. Chapter 3 POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT AS INTRINSIC GOOD: ARENDT AND COMPANY
    (pp. 52-82)

    I HAVE SUGGESTED THAT we let civic engagement die a noble death, to be reborn as its constituent parts: political, social, and moral engagement, concepts that are better equipped to clarify and enhance our discourse about making democracy work. From this point forward I will focus primarily on political engagement, reserving moral engagement for a separate book-length treatment. Many democrats, ranging from scholars to pundits to community leaders, praise political engagement uncritically, as if we always need as much as we can get. But since American democracy has generally run short of political attention and energy, the task of eliciting...

  7. Chapter 4 POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT AS INSTRUMENTAL GOOD: TOCQUEVILLE, ATTENTION DEFICIT, AND ENERGY
    (pp. 83-120)

    IN THE LAST CHAPTER I focused on Hannah Arendt, the most influential proponent of political engagement’s intrinsic value, and found Arendt’s argument inconsistent and unpersuasive. Now I turn to Alexis de Tocqueville as the most influential proponent of political engagement’s instrumental value. Tocqueville’s political works support my conception of political engagement as a combination of attention and activity, an investment of mental focus and physical energy that are closely related, instrumentally valuable resources for effective democratic governance. Tocqueville’s insights into attention and energy and their importance for sustainable self-government comprise one of his more original, and overlooked, contributions to political...

  8. Chapter 5 IS POLITICAL ENGAGEMENT BETTER THAN SEX?
    (pp. 121-143)

    ONE OF MY PURPOSES has been to upset the commonplace practice of taking political engagement for granted, both its meaning and its value. We must specify clearly what political engagement means before we can decide whether it is inadequately supplied and, if so, why—and what, if anything, might be done to promote it. Toward that end, I argue in chapter 2 that we should understand political engagement as a combination of attention and activity: attention to, and activity in support of, political affairs, which can (but need not) be combined with social or moral engagement. In chapters 3 and...

  9. Chapter 6 CONCLUSION: TOCQUEVILLE VS. THE FULL MONTY
    (pp. 144-174)

    THUS FAR I HAVE BLOWN the whistle on the hopelessly confusing uses of civic engagement that fail to distinguish between political, social, and moral attention and energy. Civic engagement should cede the stage to its political, social, and moral cousins. I have also chided idealistic conceptions of participatory democracy for insisting that citizens invest much or most of their limited attention and energy in politics. Idealistic conceptions of participatory democracy concern themselves not with how citizens act now, nor with the choices that citizens express at present, but with how citizens might act and choose under thoroughly altered conditions. They...

  10. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 175-194)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 195-201)