Here's a list of articles, essays and occasional papers I've written over the past two decades, most of them published in newspapers and magazines. They range widely, from media criticism to political theory, from a defense of the American jury system to a roundup of some favorite world music recordings...
It's a sad fact that while most of us spend a sizeable part of our lives communicating with others, we seem more separate and disconnected than ever. We speak at each other, or past each other. We speak different conceptual languages, hold different values, embody different ways of seeing the world. This essay makes the case that we need to get smart about how to talk to one another. We need to be able to overcome differences, find common ground, create meaning and purpose, and set directions together. We need to be able to think together as groups, as teams, as committees, as communities, and as citizens. Our best hope of doing that is through authentic dialogue. June 2008.
This essay discusses the role of online networks in building and strengthening community and tries to sort through some of the rhetoric — much of it overblown — about so-called virtual communities. It appears in the essay collection, Composing Knowledge, edited by Rolf Norgaard (Bedford/St. Martin's Press, 2007)
The 2005 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its director general Mohamed ElBaradei for their efforts to control the spread of nuclear weapons and promote peaceful applications of nuclear technologies. Adapted from my book with Irwin Abrams, Nobel Lectures in Peace, this report considers the broader context of the award, the Norwegian Nobel Committee's rationale in giving it, and what was said in Mohamed ElBaradei's historic acceptance speech at the award ceremony in Oslo. December 2005.
A look at the theory and practice of deliberative dialogue — a much-needed antidote to the sort of argument and debate that too often passes for public discourse today. Unlike other forms of discussion, deliberative dialogue is aimed not so much at talking together as thinking together. The process involves listening deeply to other points of view, exploring new ideas and perspectives, searching for points of agreement, and bringing unexamined assumptions into the open. Adapted from an essay I wrote for the book, Public Thought and Foreign Policy, edited by Robert J. Kingston. May 2005
The centennial of the Nobel Peace Prize brought together an extraordinary group of former peace laureates, international statesmen, distinguished scholars, and champions of human rights for one of the greatest peace summits of all time. The event was long on pomp and circumstance, as expected, but also genuine soul-searching about peace prospects in a world of conflict, terrorism, and deepening uncertainty. December 2001
Prop. 10 is the California ballot measure that added a 50 cents-per-pack tax on cigarettes to pay for early childhood development programs. This article describes the initiative as a unique and promising democratic experiment, one that puts citizens themselves in charge of how their tax dollars are spent. Are Californians up to the task of democratic deliberation and decision-making? October 2001
This article surveys three perspectives on civil society and its key role in fashioning a new global order, one that serves as an essential bulwark against the powers of governments and free markets. The essay reviews seminal articles by Benjamin Barber and Hazel Henderson, along with a speech by Czech President Vaclav Havel. December 2000
Political theorist Gabriel Almond introduced a valuable — perhaps even indispenable — approach to comparing political systems, but it didn’t pay sufficient attention to the important role of civil society in shaping political life. November 2000
The call for a European constitution has reached an almost feverish pitch in recent years. In October 2000, the Economist magazine boldly drafted a constitution of its own to, as its editors declared, stimulate a greater debate about the issue and to ensure that citizens are given a greater voice in European politics. It's an exceptionally concise and clearly presented document which suggests that democracy has clearly evolved since the U.S. Constitution was drafted two centuries ago. October 2000
For the American news media, 1998 was a year of imbroglios and lapsed ethics. Looking back, these embarrassments appear to be symptomatic of a deepening divide between journalists and the public they purport to represent. "The connection between journalism and democracy may seem far-fetched to many in the media establishment — especially those struggling with more immediate concerns, such as making ends meet in the face of sagging ratings or dwindling circulation figures. But it's a connection news professionals can no longer afford to ignore." October 1998
"We live in an increasingly diverse and increasingly mongrel society, a nation of blurred boundaries and bizarre extremes. Never before in history has a society been as diverse as the U.S. is today. And never before have so many different traditions, beliefs and values been integrated into a single culture." This essay first appeared in HopeDance magazine and was later reprinted in the book At Issue: Interracial Relationships (Greenhaven Press, 2000). September 1998
This essay revisits Wilson Carey McWilliams's The Idea of Fraternity, a forceful and unusually prescient study of American community that foreshadowed the work of Robert Bellah, Christopher Lasch, Robert Putnam and others who have charted the decline of America's civic life in recent years. April 1999
This op-ed piece makes the case that politicians and newspeople need to elevate the debate by addressing real ideas, not falling back on rhetoric and tired cliches. "The way to do that is by spending more time talking to the American people — not to each other." August 1996
The Internet has a great deal to tell us about not only the emerging society of the 21st century but also the farther reaches of human consciousness, according to frontier thinkers such as Peter Russell, Elisabet Sahtouris and Marianne Williamson. January 1996
"Whether or not to preserve the American jury system is not an open question. If anything, we need to strengthen the tradition of ordinary people brokering the disputes of their neighbors. The jury system, far from a mystical ideal, is based on the common sense and reasoned judgment of ordinary citizens. An effective system must foster, not discourage, that civic judgment." October 1995
This commentary looks at the troubles facing the American press, from the rise of sensationalism and "pink flamingo" ethics in the news profession to declining readership and a deepening public cynicism about the media. April 1995
An oft-cited bibliographic essay surveying the work of Harvard child psychiatrist and oral historian Robert Coles. The essay revolves around four recurrent themes in Coles's writings: the power of story, the call of community and voluntary service, political socialization, and the search for enduring moral truths that give life purpose and direction. August 1994
A look at memoirs by Anatole Broyard, Willie Morris, and Diana Trilling that recall New York City in its glory days when it was still at the crossroads of art, literature, and politics. February 1994
A review of two influential, agenda-setting books of 1993 — Lewis Lapham's The Wish for Kings ("no doubt one of the more entertaining accounts of our democratic malaise I've read in quite awhile") and Jonathan Rauch's Kindly Inquisitors (a "brilliant" book that "seems to crop up in conversations everywhere like some literary shorthand for the terrors of the new censorship"). January 1994
Three new essay collections give substance to George Orwell's observation that, at bottom, every writer is driven by vanity. This roundup surveys new releases by Christopher Hitchens, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, and Ellen Goodman. December 1993
A review of three books that tell the story of the 1992 presidential campaigns: "Campaign narratives seem to be a quadrennial ritual within the publishing world, despite what has become an axiom of the business during the last 20 years: campaign books don't sell. A sampling of this year's crop leads me to think that's just as well." November 1993
A bibliographic essay on citizenship, democracy, and the changing global order in the wake of the Cold War. "Upon review, much of the current literature on our democratic prospects brings to mind Rousseau's phrase, 'Liberty is a food easy to eat, but difficult to digest.'" August 1993
On the eve of Ross Perot's first nationally televised "electronic town hall," this op-ed piece reflects on the importance of genuine face-to-face democracy. "What we need is a real town meeting, not a high-tech opinion poll masquerading as one." March 1993
World music may be to the 1990s what the British invasion was to the 1960s. This article looks at the mainstreaming of "a new musical sensibility", presents a roundup of "must-have" CD releases from the likes of Africando, Baaba Maal and others, and spotlights Stern's Records — world music's premier record label and a purveyor of some of the most beautiful recordings on the planet. October 1993
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