E pluribus unum no longer holds. Out of the many have come as many claims and grievances, all at war with the idea of one nation undivided. The damage thus done to our national life, as too few Americans seek a common good, is Martin Marty's concern. His book is an urgent call for repair and a personal testament toward resolution.
A world-renowned authority on religion and ethics in America, Marty gives a judicious account (itself a rarity and a relief in our day of uncivil discourse) of how the body politic has been torn between the imperative of one people, one voice, and the separate urgings of distinct identities--racial, ethnic, religious, gendered, ideological, economic. Foreseeing an utter deadlock in public life, with devastating consequences, if this continues, he envisions steps we might take to carry America past the new turbulence.
While the grand story of oneness eludes us (and probably always will), Marty reminds us that we do have a rich, ever-growing, and ever more inclusive repertory of myths, symbols, histories, and, most of all, stories on which to draw. He pictures these stories, with their diverse interpretations, as part of a conversation that crosses the boundaries of groups. Where argument polarizes and deafens, conversation is open ended, guided by questions, allowing for inventiveness, fair play, and dignity for all. It serves as a medium in Marty's broader vision, which replaces the restrictive, difficult, and perhaps unattainable ideal of "community" with the looser, more workable idea of "association."
An "association of associations" is what Marty contemplates, and for the spirit and will to promote it he looks to eighteenth-century motifs of sentiment and affection, convergences of intellect and emotion that develop from shared experience. And as this book so eloquently reminds us, America, however diverse, is an experience we all share.
A fine Niebuhrian sermon, evoking the 'gossamer fabric' that has sustained Americans not as multiculturalists or superpatriots, or as Keynesians or Friedmanites, but as people who are free.
The book's last sentence is like the spoonful of medicine distilled from Mr. Marty's persuasive argument: 'The advice for every citizen who wishes to participate in American life and its necessary arguments: start associating, telling, hearing, and keep talking.'
It is always dicey to predict how the history of the current era will be written a century hence, but anyone attempting a history of the United States in the twentieth century will doubtless have to account for the paroxysms of our adjustments to pluralism. The story thus far has not been particularly edifying. The public square has degenerated into a melange of identity politics and a cacophony of voices, all of them raised to the level of shouting. The implications for social policy--not to mention general comity--are enormous, so when someone of Martin E. Marty's intellectual breadth and stature turns his attention to the topic, it is welcome news indeed.
[Marty] guides the general reader through the interplay of unity and pluralism--the striving for 'community' amidst centripetal forces--to a broader understanding of 'association' as motif and force in American culture. He shows how a cohesion of mind and affection emerges from shared experience, restoring the soul of the body politic...A valuable study.
The One and the Manyexamines the tensions in public discourse in the States, growing more deadlocked as different ethnic, religious and political groups assert their own individual importance. While differences are to be relished, there must also be a way in which a mutual conversation between these different groups can blossom. [Marty's] thesis will interest people in Britain who are also questioning the idea of a 'common good' in a pluralist society.
Here, addressing the thorny issue of cultural diversity in American public life, Marty displays the clear thinking, elegant prose, and facility to cut to the heart of tough issues that are the hallmarks of his reputation. For anyone interested in public philosophy, multiculturalism, communitarianism, minority rights (all terms that Marty uses sparingly), this is a must-read...[Marty's] purpose here is to show the pitfalls of the easy answers of both totalists and tribalists, and to demonstrate the necessity of the hard work of self-reflection and engagement to find the correct distance. This inspiring work deserves the respect of both camps and may even win over converts from both.
- 244 pages
- 6 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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