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Debating Democracy's DiscontentEssays on American Politics, Law, and Public Philosophy$
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Anita L. Allen and Milton C. Regan

Print publication date: 1998

Print ISBN-13: 9780198294962

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198294964.001.0001

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The Encumbered American Self

The Encumbered American Self

Chapter:
(p.86) 5 The Encumbered American Self
Source:
Debating Democracy's Discontent
Author(s):

Clifford Orwin

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/0198294964.003.0006

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

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