George Kateb’s writings have been innovatory in exploring the fundamental quandary of how modern democracy—sovereignty vested in the many—might nevertheless protect, respect, promote, even celebrate the singular, albeit ordinary individual. His essays, often leading to unexpected results, have focused on many inter-related topics: rights, representation, constitutionalism, war, evil, extinction, punishment, privacy, patriotism, and more.
This book focuses in particular on his thought in three key areas:
These essays exhibit the breadth and complexity of Kateb’s notion of dignity and outline some implications for political theory. Rather than a solely moral approach to the theory of human rights, he elaborates a human-dignity rationale for the very worth of the human species
Here Kateb challenges the position that moral considerations are often too demanding to have a place in the rough-and-tumble of modern politics and political analysis. Rejecting common justifications for the propriety of punishment, he insists that state-based punishment is a perplexing moral problem that cannot be allayed by repairing to theories of state legitimacy.
These essays gather some of Kateb’s rejoinders and correctives to common conceptions and customary critiques of the theory of democratic individuality. He explains that Locke’s hesitations and religious backtracking are instructive, perhaps as precursors for the ways in which vestigial beliefs can still cloud moral reasoning.
Table of Contents
Introduction: John E. Seery, PART I: Dignity, 1. The Concept of Human Dignity (2011), 2. Is John Gray a Nihilist? (2006), 3. On Being Watched and Known (2001), PART II: Morality, 4. Punishment and the Spirit of Democracy (2007), 5. Morality and Self-Sacrifice, Martyrdom and Self-Denial (with a new addendum) (2008), 6. Democracy and Untruth (2012), 7. Political Realism (2013), Part III: Individuality, 8. Locke and the Political Origins of Secularism (2009), 9. Arendt and Individualism (1994), 10. Individuality and Egotism (2002), An interview with George Kateb: Abraham Lincoln and Political Theory Questions from John E. Seery
John E. Seery is George Irving Thompson Professor of Government and Professor of Politics at Pomona College, Claremont CA, USA. He has written books on themes such as irony, death, liberal arts education, and constitutional age requirements, and his articles have covered a range of topics, from abortion politics to Grant Wood’s American Gothic.