HPPUB BOOK REVIEW of Michael Lernerís The Politics of Meaning


Author (or Editor): Lerner, Michael

Title: The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope and Possibility in an Age of Cynicism

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Book Review

The Politics of Meaning: Restoring Hope and Possibility in an Age of Cynicism

By Michael Lerner (Rabbi)

New York: Addison-Wesley, 1996.

Rabbi Michael Lerner is the editor of Tikkun, and in late 1995 he published there an editorial, "The Oppression of Singles," which anticipates the breadth of ethical philosophy he develops in this mainstream book. In this essay, Lerner had hammered at the notion that "you can make it on your own."

Lerner is concerned with the shortsighted selfishness that (he thinks) most people display in conducting there lives, and he believes our economic and political paradigm encourages heartless behavior.

Specifically, he points out that many people approach personal relationships from the point of view, "What do I have to get" rather than "What do I have to give." I'm not sure that this is the same selfishness in which Ayn Rand saw virtue.

Of course, Rosenfels had done then same thing in 1972 when he talked about psychological defenses. But Lerner wants to get at a political paradigm he calls his "politics of meaning." This is a little tough to pin down completely. Essentially it means a public structure that changes the bottom line for individuals, away from superficial measures (especially money) to a more spiritual one.

Lerner, once apparently a rather conventional mainstream Democrat and progressive, eschews any one simple political paradigm. He respects private initiative and rejects false attempts to turn over his paradigm to the "people" in terms of the state. (Indeed, he sees discussions about "ownership" as misplaced). In some ways his views remind us of the Reform Party of Perot and Ventura, and he often speaks of civil society in a manner similar to Cato. Like Perot and myself, Lerner wants to see organized national debate on moral issues, outside of the normal political and judicial process.

For gays, he is quite progressive. He sees the failure to accept open gays in the military as a sign of the reluctance of men (especially those inclined to join the military) to relate to any caring or nurturing capacities within themselves. He criticizes conservatives for their hypocritical and circular rejection of same-sex marriage.

One could take Lerner's concern about "selfishness" a bit further, though. Today, with increased technology and a more stable world, people ponder what they want to do and plan out their own lives privately before making committed bonds to others. One might say that a lot of people have come into adulthood without knowing how to make the deep bonds (most of all in marriage) that society as a whole apparently needs collectively and which people need individually for moral credibility.

I remember a day in July 1996, when I took his book in a backpack to Rehoboth and, seated on the beach, absorbed a lot of it, in the middle of furious work on my own opus. As many of my friendss walked by, his ideas did register.





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