Issue 67 (2013)

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

Not since I was included in the 1984 United States Information Agency’s blacklist of banned speakers, which included Madeline Albright, James Baldwin, Ben Bradlee, James R. Schlesinger, and Elizabeth Drew, among others, have I been so honored. I just made it on to the NRA list of anti-gun individuals, which includes Bishop Edmond Browning, E.J. Dionne, Maya Angelou, Sally Fields, Frank Rich and—Madonna (I seem to have gained this distinction because of one or more of the linked op-eds and essays). I guess being on the list makes one somewhat of a target. Well, I am not about to buy a gun to defend myself. The pen is mightier than the sword.


Some of Ron Paul’s supporters are using a picture of the then Senator Obama and myself to claim that he shares my views on gun control (expressed in a recent article.) He does not.


Ambassador Frederick Barton, Assistant Secretary of State for Conflict and Stabilization Operations, explained that he was well prepared for his job—because he is the youngest brother of three and lost at every game for the first fourteen years his life. His explained that his typical response was “let’s play again” and allowed that recently he has been doing better…


If the Democrats would have transferred a trillion dollars from Social Security and Medicare to the richest Americans, many Americans —surely the liberals — would have gone ballistic. However, when this is done in two steps, many New Democrats are in favor of such a move. First, these Democrats agreed to make the Bust tax cuts permanent, and now they agree that one must cut entitlements, because there is no other way to curb the deficit. The deficit, of course, would have been much smaller had income from capital been taxed in the same way income from labor is. (By the way, treating capital the same as labor would also reduce unemployment, because using labor is now discriminated against as compared to employing capital, and it would thus make for a more rational allocation of the means of production.)

Gun Control? We Need Domestic Disarmament

Nowhere is the defeatist liberal approach to American politics more evident than in the post-Newtown campaign for gun control. Liberals are rushing to repeat, like a devout incantation, hand on one’s heart, that “we believe in the Second Amendment” — in an “individual’s right to own a gun.” Half of the legal and moral battle is lost right there and then. Instead, liberals should emphasize that throughout the total American legal history until 2008, the Supreme Court — which at times has been very conservative — has always held that the right to own guns belongs not to the individual but, as the Second Amendment states, to a “well regulated militia.” (For details on the cases involved, go here). That the right to own guns is a communitarian right, not an individualized one. True, the Roberts Court recently ruled otherwise, but liberals are still free to urge the court to reconsider this ruling and fashion arguments that will make it easier for the Court to fall back in line with all who preceded it. It would also help to recall that other civilized societies hold that the fewer guns there are out there, the fewer people will be murdered by guns.

Read the rest on The Huffington Post.

Defending Drone Policy

The question of whether it is justified to use a drone to kill an American terrorist overseas is best answered if we imagine that the target had acted in the same manner—but wearing a uniform. If that soldier was part of an army that had attacked us in the past (call it al-Qaeda) and he was preparing for a new attack—or even regrouping between attacks—then he would be considered a fair and legitimate target. There seems little reason he should be treated more benignly just because he violated the rules of armed conflicts by donning civilian clothes that make him much more difficult to identify.

Thus, the first requirement for targeted killing should be one that is not included in a recently leaked “white paper” that served as the basis for many of the questions hurled at John Brennan: Has the administration verified that the said person is terrorist?

Read the rest on The National Interest.

Climate Change? Don’t Hold Your Breath

When I served in the White House, I convinced a speech writer to insert a paragraph in favor of a policy I championed into President Carter’s forthcoming speech. I was going (as many had before me) to use this paragraph to urge the relevant agencies to proceed, on the ground that, “the president stated… ” I was stopped by a new staff director who, during the fourth year of the Carter administration, introduced a “revolutionary” idea: that speeches should be checked against policy. That is, that no major themes were to be run up the flag pole unless there was some policy in the offings to follow such unfurling.

I was reminded of this experience when President Obama made climate change the major theme of his 2013 inaugural address.

Read the rest on The Huffington Post.

50 Years of The Feminine Mystique

In an article highlighting the importance of Betty Friedan’s landmark feminist publication, the New Yorker’s Louis Menard deviates from his literature review to report some of the criticism levied against Ms. Friedan. Her ex-husband Carl, whom she dismissed as a lightweight, is quoted as saying that Friedan “hated men.” The article also states she is not the first to come up with feminist ideas — which is quite true, but also irrelevant. There are very few grand new ideas. Betty’s credit is that she not merely published a powerful brief for women’s rights at the right time, but that she spent a lifetime helping turn a text into a major — indeed worldwide — social movement that already had and continues to have major socially-transforming effects.

Before I proceed, I should establish my personal knowledge of the subject at hand. Betty and I broke bread together often at meals in our respective homes — first when we both lived in New York City, and later when we both moved to Washington, D.C. I was often a guest at her home in Sag Harbor and lost count of the times she, Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, William J. Goode, and I went out for dinner. Betty attended the bar mitzvah of my youngest son.

Read the rest on The Daily Kos.

Recent Publications

The Devolution of American Power,” The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, Vol. 37: 1 (Winter 2013)

The theory that the world is moving from a unipolar order, dominated by the United States, to a multipolar distribution of power has led to a robust debate concerning the consequences of this change on the international order. However, the global power distribution is currently following a different pattern. Instead of what is conventionally addressed as a global unipolar to multipolar shift, in fact rising powers are mainly regional powers, not global ones, although they may have global reach. This pattern should be expected to continue in the near future and should be accounted for in order to make sound policy.

It follows that the movement away from a unipolar world should not be equated with one in which more global powers contend with each other; nor should it be equated with a world in which new powers take over from an old, declining power. Moreover, it should not be assumed that the world will be less ordered. Instead, to a significant extent, the change seems to be toward more regional autonomy, or increaseddevolution and greater variety in the relationships between the United States and regional powers.

Keep reading here.

“Gridlock?,” The Forum: Vol. 10: 3, Article 9 (October 2012)

The article documents that there is actually very little gridlock in the American political system. Most of the time, what the article calls the conservative party (most Republicans and a sizeable number of Democratic legislators) gains its way—even if that means blocking action. This is the case in foreign policy, homeland protection, and economic policies (though not in cultural issues). In addition, conservatives changed the rules of the game in their favor and block truly liberal nominations.

Polls show that for every American who identifies her or himself as a liberal, there are two conservatives. Practically all Republicans see themselves as such, but many Democrats are not liberals. The political system works quite well from one specific viewpoint: it delivers what the majority says it wants. This raises a question: if Congress represents well the majority—why is the majority so unhappy?

Keep reading here.

Comments on this article are especially appreciated. Send them to Amitai Etzioni at [email protected].

Hot SpotsHot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human-Rights World is now available in eBook format through Google PlayAmazonBarnes & Noble, and other major eBook vendors.

“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

I Read

While the wealth and influence of the financial sector prevented the Dodd-Frank reforms from truly empowering regulators, one aspect of the bill had the potential to curb financial fraud and abuse—the newly created, independently funded, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Senate Republicans are threatening to filibuster the appointment of the Bureau’s head in “an open attempt to use raw obstructionism to overturn the law.” Paul Krugman explains why inThe New York Times.

The field of socio-economics lost one of its founding thinkers on December 10, 2012. Albert Hirschman, who fled Nazi Germany in the 1930s, fought against Mussolini and for the Republicans in Spain, and served in the French and U.S. armies, went on to become a distinguished development economist that challenged conventional wisdom in most everything he did. He advanced the idea that “exit” (i.e., “voting with your feet”) might not have the taming effect on firms and institutions that Friedman and most neo-classicists assumed. For example, those who “exit” a failing public school are most likely those with the most agency and “voice,” leaving those who cannot exit behind to suffer silently. “Moderate exit” he argued, leads to “an oppression of the weak by the incompetent and an exploitation of the poor by the lazy which is the more durable and stifling as it is both unambitious and escapable.” Learn more about his legacy in The Economist.

There were 10,000 association-governed communities in the United States in 1970. Their number reached 324,000 by 2012, according to the Community Association Institute. One in five Americans lives in a neighborhood governed by an association. Read the story here.

Cut Medicare costs? Biotechnology firm Amgen won a favor from Congress in the fiscal cliff deal: a provision that delays price constraints on one of its lucrative medications for kidney dialysis patients for an additional two year period—and is projected to cost Medicare $500 million. Read about the firm’s lobbying efforts and close ties to a number of key Senators (Republicans and Democrats) inThe New York TimesRead about other ways to save Medicare without cutting benefits here.

One of the NRA’s favorite numbers, 20,000, the supposed number of gun laws on the books, turns out to have very little basis in fact. Read the whole article in The Washington Post.

‘Hot Spots’ Book Discussion

What are the places we are most likely to go to war next? And how can these wars be prevented? See Hot Spots: American Foreign Policy in a Post-Human Rights World.

You can see more videos on our work at the ICPS website.

Upcoming Events

SASE 25th Annual Conference – States in Crisis

June 27-29, 2013 – University of Milan

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]


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Edited by Ashley McKinless