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American Citizen: The Quest for Inclusion.

American Citizenship: The Quest for Inclusion. Judith Shklar. Harvard University Press, 17.95. In the rarified world of social policy, enfranchisement and employment are usually seen as fields apart. In American Citizenship, however, the object is to bring them together. The vote is the fulfillment of the democratic promise of equality; employment is the minimum condition for the pursuit of individual happiness. Shklar has produced a compelling argument that the right to vote and the right to a job, neither of which was written into the Constitution, are nevertheless necessary for full and equal American citizenship.

To which this reviewer responds, "Necessary, but not sufficient." Which is to say that Shklar laments but does not explain the American rate of voter participation: Half of those eligible fail to vote in presidential elections, and two-thirds fail to vote in midterm elections, leaving the United States with the lowest rate of voter participation of any democracy in the world.

But some of that explanation is obvious-in office-holders from the president on down who say one thing in campaigns and do another once in office; in the failure of all too many office holders to meet minimal ethical standards; in campaigns run on the basis of demagogic, generic 30-second messages; in political parties that by conscious choice offer the public nothing of import to decide; in a mass media that treats the political enterprise with trivialization, disdain, and cynicism; in government that can respond to crisis very well (e.g., the San Francisco earthquake, Iraq) but anticipates crisis very badly (e.g., homelessness, air pollution, Iraq); in a set of public values that emphasizes individual self-seeking at the expense of the public good; and in an educational system bloated in administration, inadequate in teaching, and aimed at imparting vocational skills at the expense of civic literacy.

Any analysis, however succinct, that begins and ends with defining standings and citizenship in terms of the rights to the franchise and employment is simply inadequate in the face of increasingly oligopolistic power, great disparities of wealth, eroding institutions, lack of societal purpose, and a manipulative mass media that is, in Neil Postman's words, amusing ourselves to death." What Shklar gives us is not enough.

To grant the right to vote without providing anything meaningful to decide is to offer the trappings of equality without the substance. To grant the right to a job without providing, for the overwhelming majority of job holders, meaningful self-fulfillment in either workplace or community is to provide the face rather than the reality of dignity.
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Author:Gans, Curtis B.
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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