The Politics of Many Hands in America
250 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Hardcover | 9780268106058 | August 2019
eBook (Web PDF) | 9780268106089 | August 2019
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268106072 | August 2019
American society is often described as one that celebrates self-reliance and personal responsibility. However, abolitionists, progressive reformers, civil rights activists, and numerous others often held their fellow citizens responsible for shared problems such as economic exploitation and white supremacy. Moreover, they viewed recognizing and responding to shared problems as essential to achieving democratic ideals. In Democratic Responsibility, Nora Hanagan examines American thinkers and activists who offered an alternative to individualistic conceptions of responsibility and puts them in dialogue with contemporary philosophers who write about shared responsibility. Drawing on the political theory and practice of Henry David Thoreau, Jane Addams, Martin Luther King Jr., and Audre Lorde, Hanagan develops a distinctly democratic approach to shared responsibility. Cooperative democracy is especially relevant in an age of globalization and hyperconnectivity, where societies are continually threatened with harms—such as climate change, global sweatshop labor, and structural racism—that result from the combined interactions of multiple individuals and institutions, and which therefore cannot be resolved without collective action. Democratic Responsibility offers insight into how political actors might confront seemingly intractable problems, and challenges conventional understandings of what commitment to democratic ideals entails. This book will be of interest to scholars and students of political science, especially those who look to the history of political thought for resources that might promote social justice in the present.
Nora Hanagan is visiting assistant professor of political science at Duke University.
"Democratic Responsibility: The Politics of Many Hands in America is a powerful and persuasive analysis of ‘the many hands problem,’ the tremendous theoretical and practical difficulty of holding individuals accountable for harms produced by the cumulative effect of the interactions of many persons and institutions—harms such as climate change, global sweatshop labor, and group oppression. Hanagan depicts how four strikingly original thinkers and activists from the nineteenth century to today—H. D. Thoreau, Jane Addams, M. L. King, Jr. and Audre Lorde—grappled with the problem of many hands. She illuminates the historical contexts that shaped their ideas, the continuities and differences among them, and their relevance for our time. Hanagan’s analysis of discursive and cultural practices that sustain privilege, and how cooperative and collective action can combat oppression and inequality, could not be more timely. This clearly argued and superbly written book is a ‘must read’ for intellectual historians, political theorists, and activists alike." —Mary Shanley, Professor of Political Science on the Margaret Stiles Halleck Chair, Vassar College
"I expect students of democratic theory and of American political thought to be very interested in Nora Hanagan's work; I have every reason to believe that her discussions of each of the historical figures she evaluates will become recognized as significant contributions to the secondary literature. All students of democratic theory should be stimulated by her political theory and its relationship to a moral theory of responsibility." —Bob Pepperman Taylor, University of Vermont~Bob Pepperman Taylor, University of Vermont
"While 'responsibility' is a hot topic in the field, I do not know of anyone else who has explored it in terms of the tradition of American political thought. This book is well written, and Hanagan's argument for the particularity (and import) of a specifically democratic form of responsibility (as opposed to collective or individual), that is itself integral to democratic governance, is novel, as well as interesting and productive." —Lida Maxwell, Boston University