The Encumbered American Self

Clifford Orwin

in Debating Democracy's Discontent

Published in print October 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294962
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598708 | DOI:
 The Encumbered American Self

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If, as Sandel claims, the community constitutes us rather than vice versa–if we are truly “encumbered beings”–just how many different communities can encumber us at once? Affirmative action and multiculturalism enact the Sandelian premise that we are not primarily individuals but members of communities, and that we are to be publicly catalogued and treated as such. The teaching that our identities are communal from the ground up has proved every bit as corrosive of the bond of common citizenship as the individualism blamed by Sandel. While cherishing their country, their families, their churches, their associations of every sort, Americans have not viewed themselves as submerged by them; we have all been raised as members of a community of liberals. Paradoxically, to disown the individualistic strain of our tradition would itself amount to a declaration of unencumberedness.

Keywords: communities; constitutes; encumbered; identities; individualism; liberals; multiculturalism; tradition

Chapter.  2726 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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