The New Golden Rule by Amitai Etzioni (thoughts)
The New Golden Rule by Amitai Etzioni was a truly fascinating read: the mix of political science, sociology, and philosophy drew me in and kept me interested throughout. Written in the midst of the 1990s, when the world was rearranging itself after the end of the Cold War and neoliberal capitalism’s triumph, and a Republican congress was rearranging US domestic policy, the book sets out Etzioni’s ‘communitarian’ philosophy. Essentially, he argues that both rapid socialism and rabid individualism are unhealthy, detrimental to both a society and the humans who live in it. Instead, communitarianism advocates a middle route, a balance of rights and responsibilities, with a deeper sense of community values fostered through healthy discussions and interactions.
Reading it in 2013, in a country torn even farther apart by partisan fighting, in a world whose economy has been undermined by neoliberal policies, the idealism was at times almost unbearable. Fortunately, the occasional academically dense passage engaged my brain and kept my emotions in check! This is definitely a scholarly work, exploring the nuances of language and theory as much, if not more, than the practical application of the ideas. At times, I felt Etzioni was walking a fine moral line; advocating for ‘community values’ without automatically condoning the racism, sexism, etc. of earlier times is tricky. Not to mention the potentially stifling effect of small communities. But even at the moments when my eyebrows were at their highest, he managed to pull it back in time.
I definitely enjoyed reading this: I found it quite thought-provoking and intriguing. That being said, I’d primarily recommend it to others who enjoy political philosophy; I imagine a more casual reader could quickly become impatient with precise attention to detail the book offers. Even if I didn’t agree with everything he said, I loved his thinking style and argument presentation. I’ll certainly be reading more Etzioni in the future.