Beyond Left and Right: Breaking the Political Stalemate

Two conflicting ideals animate American political debate: our rights as individuals and our responsibilities as members of society. From both conservatives and liberals we hear arguments for extremes of unrestrained individualism and suffocating statism. Do we all have the right to behave as we please, or must morality be legislated in the interests of the community? Should we be left on our own to succeed or fail financially, or should government shield us from risk (and control our pocketbooks)? In this penetrating book, author A. Lawrence Chickering describes the breakdown in dialogue that underlies the crisis in American politics. Surveying major domestic concerns – economic justice, racial and sexual equality, protection of the environment – Chickering concludes that no effective response to these and other issues is possible until we resolve the larger dilemma of how to reconcile rights and responsibilities, freedom and order. Chickering faults both Republicans and Democrats for their preoccupation with the politics of the centralized state. Washington-based politics, he argues, has become hopelessly disputatious, corrupt, and remote from the concerns of America’s people. It is “politics on the cheap”, endless tinkering with the machine of centralized government, incapable of satisfying Americans’ pervasive yearning for a society that inspires their willing and enthusiastic participation. How can we make politics work again? Beyond the tired programs of the left and right lies another option: a more consensual politics, built on self-governing institutions at the local and regional levels. Such institutions would empower citizens to work for the larger public good in all important areasof their lives. Beyond Left and Right introduces us to a new coalition of conservatives and liberals that is striving to build self-governing communities, especially in the stricken inner cities. This movement is strongly evident in efforts to reform education and low-income housing and is proposing new ideas in health care, law enforcement, and other areas. This is only the start, however: Chickering says that citizens, working together at the local and regional levels, can construct a just and responsive political system for the entire nation. This book offers optimism and hope. It points in a new direction – toward the freedom and sense of community that come with self-governance. Beyond Left and Right provides a basis for reviving America’s political life and our aspirations for its future.  •  Google Books  •  GoodReads

Beyond Left and Right: Breaking the Political Stalemate

by A. Lawrence Chickering

From Publishers Weekly

Arguing that “our obsession with rights” overwhelms any thought of collective obligations, Chickering, a Jack Kemp-style conservative and founder of the International Center for Economic Growth in San Francisco, muses provocatively on the paucity of American political debate. He thoughtfully opines that both conservatism and liberalism are riven by conflict over freedom and order, and that capitalism and socialism are complementary, not conflicting. He suggests that political discourse has sometimes degenerated into “codependency”–e.g., blaming drug dealers for the drug crisis “militates against the assumption of personal responsibility that is crucial for rehabilitation.” However, although Chickering asserts early in the book that a renewed politics must engage local, self-governing institutions, his own proposals for such innovations as public school voucher systems or tenant management of public housing remain thin.   – Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A carefully reasoned attempt to find common ground between liberals and conservatives, by a libertarian conservative committed to eliminating racism and poverty. Chickering (founder and associate director of San Francisco’s International Center for Economic Growth) argues that political tensions on both the left and the right evolve from a need to reconcile order and freedom. He traces those tensions from the first stirrings of individualism in the 14th century through the rise of the middle class, the Romantic reaction to capitalism, and the dissolution of bonds once provided by religion as well as by governments both socialist and capitalist. Chickering convincingly argues that citizens must wrest government from the hands of political professionals and devise their own solutions to problems, “ordering” their lives in ways satisfactory to themselves. But the author’s analysis can be uneven, especially when it comes to race relations: He tends to overlook the huge disparities in wealth and power that underlie many social problems, treating these problems as if they were only questions of point of view. At times, he seems partisan–overlooking Clinton’s emphasis on the “reciprocal obligations” of welfare recipients, for example, even as he praises similar Republican proposals. And while he doesn’t acknowledge or perhaps realize it, Chickering draws on many of the same (Kuhnian, poststructuralist) insights about subjectivity– about the need for personal approaches to problem-solving–that have inspired leftists in questions of multiculturalism, college curriculums, etc. Though the author doesn’t always follow those findings to the same liberal conclusions, it’s fascinating to see how compelling these insights can be, and to realize that they offer hope of replacing left/right rhetoric with constructive dialogue. Chickering’s emphasis on the discovery of personal and site- specific answers to problems–backed by accounts of successful community projects worldwide–will inspire even many who disagree with his positions. – Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP.

Praise for “Beyond Left and Right: Breaking the Political Stalemate”

“The current architecture of the political argument isn’t working.  Chickering [has an] . . . exceptional capacity to relay with all their strength, arguments from the other side.  He leaves the reader with a true sense of having arrived at a keener understanding of what divisions are real [and] what depend primarily on the vagaries of nomenclature.”

William F. Buckley, Jr.

“The time is ripe for this provocative book.  The ideologies of Left and Right have failed to limit the stifling growth of centralized bureaucratic power.  The ideas of scientific objectivity and impersonal administration have failed.  We need to return to the original Federalist debates, connecting Jefferson’s ideal of community government with a new emphasis on honoring personal uniqueness.”

Tom Hayden

“No other book of recent vintage comes even close to Chickering’s masterful reconciliation of rights and responsibilities in current American public policy.  The book is a political gem, and deserves widest reading.”

Robert Nisbet
Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities
Columbia University
Author of The Quest for Community

Beyond Left and Right reaches beyond the normal capacities that divide and paralyze us.  This book will stretch and prepare those who want to start thinking about the ideas that can pull us together for the 21st century.”

Peter C. Goldmark, Jr.
Former President of the Rockefeller Foundation
Publisher, International Herald Tribune

“I never thought I would see a marriage between conservative politics and liberal, new age thinking from the human potentials movement, but Lawry Chickering has achieved it.”

Jay Ogilvy
Esalen Institute’s Revisioning Philosophy Project

“A philosophical tour de force!”

William L. Ury
Harvard University Negotiation Project
Co-author of Getting to Yes

“A highly original analysis of the current political morass, well-written and lucid.  You, as I, may not agree with all of Chickering’s views but, whether you do or not, he will make you think, and in a constructive direction.”

Milton Friedman

Of all the books that talk about the anxieties of our time, this is the best, the most perceptive and the most sensible.  It will leave readers thinking not, as usual, that they left some crazy house where there is random moaning and groaning about esoteric topics but rather that they have a grasp of what has been happening to America, why it is happening, and what might be done about it.”

Aaron Wildavsky
University of California, Berkeley
Former President
American Political Science Association

“I welcome this thoughtful book as another sign that old paradigms are shifting and that Americans can find common ground in a new politics of global awareness and personal responsibility fit for the 21st century.”

Hazel Henderson
Author of Paradigms in Progress

Beyond Left and Right is a thought-provoking challenge to the basic ideological dichotomy of the past two centuries, and an insightful analysis of some of the key social issues of our time.”

Thomas Sowell
Hoover Institution

“The conservative Heritage Foundation and the Clintonite think-tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, found enough common ground to cooperate on a ‘Beyond Left and Right’ conference.  Lawrence Chickering’s book Beyond Left and Right is a brilliant analysis of the underlying processes which may be producing a new consensus for the 90s, reflecting agreement on pragmatic concerns, rather than the focus on the 80s on ideological differences.”

Seymour Martin Lipset
Hazel Chair of Public Policy
George Mason University
Former President
American Sociological Association.

“No one I know is freer from prejudices regarding patterns of political life and social change.  No one I know has more interesting ideas about the interrelationships of philosophical, religious, political, and economic thinking.  No one I know combines so much imaginative vision and practical effectiveness in work for creative social development.”

Michael Murphy
Founder and President
Esalen Institute
Author of The Future of the Body

“Chickering presents his own vision of America, at this crucial time in the national life, when we have exhausted the debate about our individual rights and are without a grammar or understanding of our communal values.  His is a singular voice in search of a nation.”

Richard Rodriguez
Author of Days of Obligation

“Insightful, provocative—must reading for anyone concerned about the future of American politics.”

Michael J. Boskin
Hoover Institution
President’s Council of Economic Advisors, 1989-1993

“This is the best book I know about the need to transcend the current political debate.  Chickering makes a compelling argument on why the hope to solve our economic and social problems depends on combining the best of conservative and liberal thought.”

John Marks
Search for Common Ground

“Beyond Left and Right is a wise account of the sterile quality of much of today’s politics, and a powerful call for fresh thinking about the crucial balance between the individual and the community, between freedom and order, and between rights and responsibilities.  It’s an important book by a gifted, creative thinker.”

Benno C. Schmidt, Jr.
President, The Edison Project
Former President, Yale University

“The clarity of Chickering’s arguments about the two environmental movements brings order to years of questioning. . . .  The tools Chickering offers to assess one’s own place in relation to nature, to society, and to one’s commitment to responsible stewardship of the environment will aid spiritual, practical, and business decisions.  A mighty accomplishment.”

Beth A. Binns
International Academy of the Environment
Geneva, Switzerland

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