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Benjamin Barber

Benjamin Barber is a noted political scientist and writer. He is also one of the more well-spoken proponents of the New Citizenship movement, which is closely aligned with neoprogressivism.

In these trying times, I believe neoprogressivism to be the last best hope of the moderate Left. While most contemporary liberals derive their political ideology from the experience of WWII, Barber's work is more solidly grounded in the Progressive tradition. Where liberals are concerned primarily with the proliferation of rights and the distribution of justice, progressives are concerned with preserving the prerequisites of citizenship. This means not only ensuring that each citizen has the means to live, work, and think freely, but also encouraging each citizen to actively take part in the political process through deliberation and political activism.

Barber's best work is An Aristocracy of Everyone, in which he makes a solid argument for public schooling. Schools are the font of citizenship, he argues, and thus we should teach the skills we desire in our citizenry to our children in the public arena. This means not only learning to deliberate with other, diverse members of one's community, but also learning the skills necessary to take an active role in all aspects of one's communal life, from jury duty to roadside cleanups. In the meantime, he makes a compelling case for a college community service requirement.

In An Aristocracy of Everyone, Barber also eloquently succeeds in refuting Alan Bloom's well-known remarks in The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom, argues Barber, is unhappy because colleges cater no longer to the privileged few but to the many, or, in other words, that universities are no longer aristocratic but democratic institutions. Yet, as Barber notes, the purpose of higher education in our democratic society is not to inculcate a handful of bluebloods in the mysteries of Cato and Horace, but to create "an aristocracy of everyone." By doing so, we not only can improve individual lives but also help to create a more well-informed and responsive electorate.

One of Barber's more recent books, Jihad vs. McWorld, traces the erosive nature of both ethnic tribalism and global consumerism on the foundations of the nation-state, the "only guarantor of the conditions that democracy needs to flourish." It is an interesting read (my review of the book is here), but I much prefer Michael Sandel's Democracy's Discontent in regards to this subject.

For more Barber, shave on.

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