Saturday, May 19, 2007

Pg. 69: George Kateb's "Patriotism and Other Mistakes"

Today's feature at the Page 69 Test: George Kateb's Patriotism and Other Mistakes.

About the book, from the publisher:
George Kateb has been one of the most respected and influential political theorists of the last quarter century. His work stands apart from that of many of his contemporaries and resists easy summary. In these essays Kateb often admonishes himself, in Socratic fashion, to keep political argument as far as possible negative: to be willing to assert what we are not, and what we will not do, and to build modestly from there some account of what we are and what we ought to do.

Drawing attention to the non-rational character of many motives that drive people to construct and maintain a political order, he urges greater vigilance in political life and cautions against “mistakes” not usually acknowledged as such. Patriotism is one such mistake, too often resulting in terrible brutality and injustices. He asks us to consider how commitments to ideals of religion, nation, race, ethnicity, manliness, and courage find themselves in the service of immoral ends, and he exhorts us to remember the dignity of the individual.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Kateb discusses the expansion of state power (including such topics as surveillance) and the justifications for war recently made by American policy makers. The second section offers essays in moral psychology, and the third comprises fresh interpretations of major thinkers in the tradition of political thought, from Socrates to Arendt.
Among the praise for the book:

"George Kateb is simultaneously a profound intellectual and an agent provocateur whose voice is urgently needed today. Wary of those who say that politics is governed simply by self-interest, principle, or some combination thereof, Kateb uncovers the aesthetic sensibilities inhabiting political interpretation, public vision and state action. He seeks to chasten the aesthetic, rather than to eliminate it. His critical forays into patriotism, state surveillance, fear and judgment inspire me, though others will draw just as much sustenance from his explorations into the Constitution, morality, and ideology. An indispensable book for our time."
--William E. Connolly, author of Pluralism

"Intended to challenge common sense and conventional wisdom, Patriotism and Other Mistakes is, in turn, erudite and angry, ingenious and outrageous, sophisticated and shrill.... A penetrating analysis of the non-rational ideas that bind citizens to their government."
--Glenn C. Altschuler, New York Observer

George Kateb is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Politics, Emeritus, at Princeton University. He is the author of articles on issues in the Bill of Rights and constitutional law, and his books include Hannah Arendt: Politics, Conscience, Evil; The Inner Ocean: Individualism and Democratic Culture; and Emerson and Self-Reliance. At Princeton, he was Director of the Program in Political Philosophy, Director of the Gauss Seminars, and Director of the University Center for Human Values.

The Page 69 Test: Patriotism and Other Mistakes.

--Marshal Zeringue