At Home He's a Tourist

He fills his head with culture/ He gives himself an ulcer.

Friday, April 23, 2004


Shapiro, Ian. The moral foundations of politics. Yale, 2003. 289p index ISBN 0-300-07907-9, $25.00.

Choice: "The author defends modern democratic theory and process as the best ground of political legitimacy in today's world as well as a practical means for getting at truth in politics. In sum, Shapiro advocates a "mature" Enlightenment political philosophy freed of its flaws and failures. Clearly written and argued, the book can be easily understood by both lay readers and those steeped in political philosophy. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels." History: Review of New Books: "The title of this book is misleading, and those who pick it up hoping to discover a list of ethical principles that underlie (or that should underlie) political practice will be disappointed. It is, rather, an extended argument about which form of government is most legitimate. He does not apply the same philosophic rigor to democratic theory as in the other cases. Readers may feel that Shapiro does not always keep his eye on the central argument and that he indulges in long side excursions. He sometimes fires his heaviest barrages at what seem like peripheral targets. But no one will feel that he is anything less than an incisive, clear-headed, stimulating, and impressively learned thinker. Even his excursions are fascinating, highly intelligent, and persuasive." Ethics and International Affairs: "impressive...timely as well as philosophically challenging...a solid piece of scholarship that is accessible to the nonacademic, intelligent reader. It is unclear, however, why he thinks of democracy as a competing political theory on par with the three other theories committed to the Enlightenment ideals. Shapiro rightly points out the shortcomings of the three political theories in devising an adequate theory of membership, but he does not give this important issue the attention it deserves...patriotism nets scant discussion...Despite the lack of adequate discussion of certain crucial ideas, Shapiro?s fine book, all in all, is a must-read for anybody interested in democracy and political theory." Independent Review: "The presentation is fair--and fairly standard--though Shapiro has his own views on these theories, which he does not attempt to hide. Chapters 2 and 3 constitute a clear and concise overview of utilitarianism. Shapiro does an excellent job in explaining the sources and nature of Pareto's influence...Though his exposition of Marxism and its difficulties is generally fair and accurate, Shapiro has to distort or depart from what Marx actually said to get him to speak to the concerns that frame the book...The exposition of anti-Enlightenment thought is fair and the criticisms measured...The intended audience is not completely clear. Shapiro offers an introductory treatment of the topic and for the most part breaks no new ground. If a nonspecialist were seeking a relatively brief and straightforward overview of the topic described in the title, the book might be warmly recommended." International Affairs: "does many things well, but it explores insufficiently the central question it asks, "When do governments merit our allegiance?"...engaging and aggressive style...The assessments of the various traditions work well as introductions to the subject and also supply insightful and sometimes provocative contemporary applications of the theories that will interest advanced readers...The book falls prey to a problem common to many works on democracy, that "democracy" must be defined internally in some manner...In addition, the text would have benefited from an assessment of the traditions' interactions not only with each other but also within each other...Despite these criticisms, the book is well worth a read. Although it does not convince, it does challenge and perplex."


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