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Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics [Paperback]

Andrew Sabl

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Book Description

Feb. 24 2002

How should politicians act? When should they try to lead public opinion and when should they follow it? Should politicians see themselves as experts, whose opinions have greater authority than other people's, or as participants in a common dialogue with ordinary citizens? When do virtues like toleration and willingness to compromise deteriorate into moral weakness? In this innovative work, Andrew Sabl answers these questions by exploring what a democratic polity needs from its leaders. He concludes that there are systematic, principled reasons for the holders of divergent political offices or roles to act differently.

Sabl argues that the morally committed civil rights activist, the elected representative pursuing legislative results, and the grassroots organizer determined to empower ordinary citizens all have crucial democratic functions. But they are different functions, calling for different practices and different qualities of political character. To make this case, he draws on political theory, moral philosophy, leadership studies, and biographical examples ranging from Everett Dirksen to Ella Baker, Frances Willard to Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King Jr. to Joe McCarthy.

Ruling Passions asks democratic theorists to pay more attention to the "governing pluralism" that characterizes a diverse, complex democracy. It challenges moral philosophy to adapt its prescriptions to the real requirements of democratic life, to pay more attention to the virtues of political compromise and the varieties of human character. And it calls on all democratic citizens to appreciate "democratic constancy": the limited yet serious standard of ethical character to which imperfect democratic citizens may rightly hold their leaders--and themselves.


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From the Inside Flap

"This book is an extraordinary achievement. It is brilliantly conceived and executed, closely argued and erudite, sensitive to textual and political nuance and lucid even at its most inventive and sophisticated. . . . Particular discussions of thinkers, actors and issues are as original as the architecture of the work as a whole. Thus one learns something significant not only about Rousseau, Tocqueville, Madison, Frances Williard, Martin Luther King, Saul Alinsky, and Everett Dirksen, but about larger issues such as what Sabl calls democratic constancy, philosophy and politics, theory and institutions. Many of the book's formulations are memorable, almost all are provocative in ways that stimulate reflection. There is much to argue with in this book, but every argument is one worth having."--Peter Euben, author of Corrupting Youth and The Tragedy of Political Theory

"This is a significant, highly original, and interesting contribution to our understanding of political ethics. The author displays a mastery of a large theoretical literature, which he brings to bear in a restrained way to shed light on the ethical obligations of politicians."--Joseph Bessette, Alice Tweed Tuohy Professor of Government and Ethics, Claremont-McKenna College

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From the Back Cover

"This book is an extraordinary achievement. It is brilliantly conceived and executed, closely argued and erudite, sensitive to textual and political nuance and lucid even at its most inventive and sophisticated. . . . Particular discussions of thinkers, actors and issues are as original as the architecture of the work as a whole. Thus one learns something significant not only about Rousseau, Tocqueville, Madison, Frances Williard, Martin Luther King, Saul Alinsky, and Everett Dirksen, but about larger issues such as what Sabl calls democratic constancy, philosophy and politics, theory and institutions. Many of the book's formulations are memorable, almost all are provocative in ways that stimulate reflection. There is much to argue with in this book, but every argument is one worth having."--Peter Euben, author of Corrupting Youth and The Tragedy of Political Theory

"This is a significant, highly original, and interesting contribution to our understanding of political ethics. The author displays a mastery of a large theoretical literature, which he brings to bear in a restrained way to shed light on the ethical obligations of politicians."--Joseph Bessette, Alice Tweed Tuohy Professor of Government and Ethics, Claremont-McKenna College


Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
IN THINKING ABOUT what politicians should do and the qualities of character that will help them do it, we have conflicting intuitions. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Breath of Fresh Air March 24 2002
By Mark Kleiman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Andrew Sabl has written that most unusual of documents: a book on political theory that will be of real use to those who actually practice politics, including those of us who exercise the supreme office of citizen and voter. Facing squarely the problems set by the existence of real moral disagreements and the real contention of interests, he asks how the holders of what he calls "offices" (which others of a more sociological turn might call "roles") ought to act if the project of democratic self-rule is to be carried through. He argues -- convicingly, at least to me -- that different offices imply different sets of moral guidelines: that a good senator and a good community organizer are good in different ways, and that neither one can fulfill his office simply by acting out in public some version (any version) of what private ethics defines as a good person.
As a bonus, Sabl writes clearly and elegantly; Ruling Passions is a pleasure to read. A must for the scholar, the book is completely accessible to the general reader who is willing to stretch his mind just a little.

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