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Phillips, Derek. Looking Backward: A Critical Appraisal of Communitarian Thought. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993 (248 pp.). For people who get carried away with the nostalgia of Bellah and other writers who champion the "good old days" when something like "community," "neighborliness," and unspoken "social contracts" existed, here’s a study to give them pause. Phillips focuses primarily on three so-called Golden Ages of community: 5th century bc Athens, the Middle Ages, and late-18th-century America. He demonstrates through quite readable historical research that the four criteria communitarians exalt – "commitment to place," "shared values," "civic participation," and "equality" – simply did not exist during these times. Two-thirds of the book is a refutation of the communitarians’ retelling of these histories. The final third is a liberal response to their political and philosophical agenda. That is, setting the historical questions aside, Phillips argues that communitarian approaches for reinventing community and citizenship will not work, nor would we want the kind of authoritarian society that would result. He maintains that a healthy liberalism, which should be built upon rather than torn down, is the key to community revitalization.


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