Issue 59 (2012)

Communitarian Observations

I often write about rather different matters, but in my mind they all deal with one core question: the guidance our shared values, especially the common good, provide to our public policies.

From My Diary

Professor Roger D. Fisher, a co-author of Getting to Yes, died recently.  We spent six weeks together at a workshop on making peace at Cape Code, the result of which were published in a book called International Conflict and the Behavioral Sciences: the Craigsville Papers. I once asked Roger, “what if you approach some one and suggest discussing with him ways to resolve a conflict, and he replies ‘I don’t want to talk.’ Roger responded without missing a beat, ‘I ask him why he does not want to talk.’”

* * *

Those who feel we need to develop a more accepting approach to our inevitable fate, to death, may wish to make “Crossing the Bar,” by Alfred Lord Tennyson…

“Crossing the Bar” (1889)

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

* * *

A new documentary called “The Queen of Versailles,” follows the “riches to rags” story of billionaire and timeshare emperor David Siegel and his wife Jackie, who set out to building the largest home in America—90,000 square feet—modeled on the Palace of Versailles. Their timing could not have been worse (or better from the filmmaker Lauren Greenfield point of view)—mid-construction the financial crisis hits and the Siegel’s have to adjust to a “harsh new reality,” four domestic staff instead of nineteen, and perhaps foreclosure. A review in The Economist says, “The film’s great achievement is that it invites both compassion and Schadenfreude. What could have been merely a silly send-up manages to be a meditation on marriage and a metaphor for the fragility of fortunes, big and small.”

Read the full at The Economist.

* * *

You Don’t Need To Buy This

Some people buy inflatable Santa Clauses, and they put them on the rooftop. You ask if they really need that, they chuckle and say “no, no, of course not.” But, when you ask them about flatscreen TVs, nobody chuckles anymore, people feel uncomfortable.

The truth is, we have very limited real needs. Much of the debate over how to address the economic crisis has focused on a single word: regulation. And it’s easy to understand why. Bad behavior by a variety of businesses landed us in this mess — so it seems rather obvious that the way to avoid future economic meltdowns is to create, and vigorously enforce, new rules proscribing such behavior. But the truth is quite a bit more complicated.

Read the rest of the article at The Huffington Post and share this video with anyone you know who is hooked on consumerism.

One insightful viewer, a high school history teacher in Brazil, commented,

Thanks for posting that very inspiriting video… I’m quite concerned with the path our country is taking by following a paradigm that some many of us feel as something like the “disenchantment of the world” through consumerism, hedonism and individualism. The social advances here, especially the last 15 years are undeniable, millions of people out of poverty. However the pillar throughout this development has been, and not being questioned neither by the right wing nor from the left wing, the increasing production and consumption. I fear that this attempt to emulate the so-called developed countries has come at a time that the very mechanism that leads to the development of consumer relations has proved incredibly problematic. I hope more and more people realize that the word “prosperity” has a very broad sense that is so well illustrated by the three points that you put in the video.”

The analytical challenge

Some of us work to enrich sociology for its own sake, a perfectly honorable pursuit. Others—so one day an even stronger sociology will be available to tackle challenges that plague our society and that of others. And some—to try to understand the social world around us and to now serve those who seek to better it. These lines are for the third group, which I wish would be even larger and have more opportunities to voice its findings.

We face a major sociological puzzle. We see around us a society in which banks are bailed out but not homeowners, millions of whom have lost their life savings and been kicked into the street. We see executives paid billions in bonuses using tax payers’ monies—and those long unemployed lose their meager benefits. We see pharmaceutical companies that fake data to continue selling harmful medications, corrupt politicians, biased courts, and so on.

One would expect—at least I did—a major protest led by the left to remake the regime. Instead we witness a major shift to the right. (Occupy is so nebbish it barely counts). We need sociology to understand this odd move and whether it can be redirected.

Read the rest at the ASA Footnotes Forum

What young men still don’t get about rape

Last week, Republicans and Democrats alike chastised U.S. Rep. Todd Akin for coming up with a highly troubling reference to “legitimate rape,” implying that not all rapes were unjustified, like say when a married man forces his wife to have sex. Akin has since corrected himself and said he opposes only “forcible rape.” Critics point out that there is only one kind of rape — a violent one. Rape is, by definition, a form of aggravated assault.

What all the very justifiable media hoopla ignores is that Akin’s view of rape is far from unique. It follows that the educational agenda we all face is much greater and more challenging than setting straight one congressman who claims that he is suffering from a mild case of foot-in- the-mouth disease.

The extent to which young people do not get what rape means has changed little over the years.

Read the rest at

Coming Soon

Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction, 2012) by Amitai Etzioni — Available in October 2012. “Determining which rights should take precedence and examining their relationship to security raises many important questions that go well beyond the elementary notions that human rights out to be promoted because their virtue in self-evident.” – excerpt

Recent Publications

“Less is More: The moral virtue of policy minimalism.” Journal of Globalization Studies (Volume 2, Number 1, May 2011) and Democracy versus Modernization: A dilemma for Russia and for the world (to be published 2013) p. 201-213.

Communism and the liberal democratic ideologies – the domestic and foreign policies of nations as different as Russia and the United States – have one major common failing: they vastly overestimate the capacity of governments to redesign and reengineer societal systems. This is especially true when the driving force of change is mainly a foreign power, when various powers engage in what should be called a long-distance societal engineering. Thus, the capacity to build democracy (or socialism) in other nations, as well as to form new global regimes, turns out to be much more limited than the leading modern ideologies have assumed.

I cannot stress enough that I am not arguing that major societal changes do not occur, but merely that very often these changes are not those willed nor directed by governments or any other elite or power. Thus, Russia today is a rather different society and power than it was 30 years ago, but hardly the one to which the Communist Party aspired at the time. And while no one knows yet how the American attempts to change the Iraqi and Afghan polities will end up, it is safe to assume they will not turn into the kind of regimes President Bush envisioned when he ordered American forces into both countries. The evaluations of the United Nations differ, but no one sees any resemblance between the United Nations we deal with these days and the one its founders envisioned.

Read the rest here.

The United States’ Premature Pivot to “Asia.” Society(Volume 49, Number 5, 2012) p. 395-399

The Obama administration has shifted its focus of strategic concerns from the Middle East to the Far East. (Although the term “Asia” is often used, reference is clearly to China, as there is no other power in that region the U.S. holds it must contend with.) The shift reminds one of the old parable about a child who was looking for his lost dime next to the lamp post, not because it was there that the dime went missing—but because it was there that the light made searching easy.

Responding to challenges posed by Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Arab Awakening is extremely taxing and frustrating. Countering China for now does not entail sacrificing the lives of young Americans, no surges are called for (the U.S. plans to send 250 Marines to Australia for now, and up to 2,500 over the next 10 years, and two aircraft carriers—of which the U.S. has eleven—are maneuvering in the area), and no large outlay of funds is needed. Moreover, one can readily point to achievements: several of the nations that border China have chosen to strengthen their ties with the U.S., including Vietnam, the Philippines, and even Burma. And these nations are following the U.S. lead to deal with China as a group, rather than on a one-on-one basis, as China sought. And the region is mainly peaceful and stable. Moreover, the Pentagon has a strong innate preference for preparing for a war with conventional troops: fighting an enemy with fighter planes, ships, artillery, and tanks—rather than dealing with irregular forces, of the sort it faces in the Middle East. The same holds for the lobbies that represent the American corporations that build the hardware. There is much more money to be made by building F-22 s and F-35 s and hundreds more ships to counter China, than by adding Special Forces and manufacturing whatever meager means their warfare requires: snub handguns, sharp knives, and robes.

Continue reading here.

Martin S. Indyk, Kenneth G. Liberthal, and Michael E. O’Hanlon, Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy (Brookings FOCUS Book): Book review by Alexandra Appel and Amitai EtzioniSociety (Volume 49, Number 5, 2012) p. 477-480.

In their book Bending History, authors Martin Indyk, Kenneth Lieberthal, and Michael O’Hanlon offer a summary of Obama’s foreign policy successes and setbacks during his first 3 years as president. The authors are all highly regarded scholars of international relations at the Brookings Institution. Their meticulously nuanced study deserves close reading; it cannot be captured in one sound bite or even a few.

Upon entering office, Obama had hoped to rehabilitate America’s international reputation, particularly in the Muslim world; promote multilateralism and enhance cooperation with China on global issues; end the wars in Iraq an Afghanistan; engage in dialogue with Iran and encourage nuclear nonproliferation; establish lasting peace in the Middle East; forestall climate change through groundbreaking legislation and international agreements; and help alleviate global poverty. Thus, “the forty-fourth president of the United States sought nothing less than to bend history’s arc in the direction of justice, and a more peaceful, stable global order.”

Read the rest here.

I Read

Working 9 to 12: ‘How Much Is Enough?’ by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky – Review by Richard Posner

Richard Posner holds that, somehow, we survived the decline of the workweek from 50 to 40 — however any additional cuts in the work week, will leave us with so much boring leisure time that we shall, “brawl, steal, overeat, drink, and sleep late.” Moreover, the thesis that we can gain deep satisfaction from objects that are not labor nor capital intensive, and hence cost little, advanced by Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky in their book How Much Is Enough?: Money and the Good Life, is dismissed with the announcement that the leisure Americans like is the expensive kind, rather than lying in the hammock.

However, it is obvious that one can enjoy chess played with plastic pieces about as much as playing with mahogany carved ones; Shakespeare, the Bible and Stephen King read about as well in a paper back or e-reader edition as in a leather bound one; and playing dominoes or bocce ball is just as pleasurable as golf. Meditation and praying cost even less. In effect, millions of Americans who retire before they have to make the choice that they would rather work less and thus reduce their lifelong earnings, and hence by necessity settle for more leisure time and buy less costly options, than if they continued to work and retired later. Even better: investing in relationships, mountains of data show, pays off, as more and more parents of young children who chose to cut gainful employment have discovered. Judge Posner may practice sociology without a license, but not without paying mind to the empirical evidence.

Read the full review in The New York Times.

“Graduates” of ICPS

Julia Milton is working with the Consortium for Social Science Associations (COSSA).

Upcoming Events

SASE 24th Annual Conference – Global Shifts:

Implications for Business, Government and Labour

June 28-30, 2012 – Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

SASE is organized into “networks,” one of which is dedicated to communitarianism and is run by José A. Ruiz San Román. Colleagues interested in presenting a paper or author, or organizing a session should promptly contact Professor Román at [email protected]

20th Belle R. and Joseph H. Braun Memorial Symposium: The Development of Privacy Law from Brandeis to Today

Thursday September 27, 2012 – Friday September 28, 2012

Opening Keynote: Privacy and the Common Good, Amitai Etzioni

Center for International Property Law, The John Marshall Law School

Chicago, IL


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