The Limits of Civic Activism
Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics
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Today's political climate overflows with admonitions to "get involved," as if entering the political fray is the great cure-all for almost any conceivable social problem. This advice may be a recipe for disaster. Staying out of politics is sometimes wiser. Pursuing non-political options may even be best given the inherent difficulties of the political pathway. In this volume, Robert Weissberg offers a corrective to a view that has evolved into a civic religion.
A nearly missionary flavor infuses the very notion of political activism, and it is especially prevalent among those on the ideological spectrum's left, though hardly unknown among conservatives. Getting involved, it is said, will do everything from improve our education to make us healthier (or, for conservatives, reduce immorality). This benefit is grossly oversold, especially given our gridlock-mired political system, one that greatly limits what can be accomplished. Even the most worthy causes face stiff opposition, and for every winner, there are countless losers. Academics in particular have promoted politics as the great remedy for social and economic ills, but this prescription rests on flawed, often myopic research that may have a hidden (liberal statist) ideological agenda.
We cannot safely assume that those befuddled by economic tasks will eventually become adroit political players. Furthermore, research often demonstrates zero about political progress that results from political activism, though it persuasively asserts that such gains have been made. Scholars also forget that most goals that can be pursued in the civic realm can also be sought through private channels. Millions of parents, for example, have secured better educations for their children simply by abandoning public education, not battling "the system."
This volume constitutes both a powerful challenge to the dogma that political activism is an unqualified good, and a strong case that in many instances following the private route may be the superior option. It will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, and students of public policy.