The Limits of Civic Activism

The Limits of Civic Activism : Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics

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Today's political climate overflows with admonitions to "get involved," as if entering the political fray is the great cure-all for almost any conceivable social problem. This advice may be a recipe for disaster. Staying out of politics is sometimes wiser. Pursuing non-political options may even be best given the inherent difficulties of the political pathway. In this volume, Robert Weissberg offers a corrective to a view that has evolved into a civic religion. A nearly missionary flavor infuses the very notion of political activism, and it is especially prevalent among those on the ideological spectrum's left, though hardly unknown among conservatives. Getting involved, it is said, will do everything from improve our education to make us healthier (or, for conservatives, reduce immorality). This benefit is grossly oversold, especially given our gridlock-mired political system, one that greatly limits what can be accomplished. Even the most worthy causes face stiff opposition, and for every winner, there are countless losers.
Academics in particular have promoted politics as the great remedy for social and economic ills, but this prescription rests on flawed, often myopic research that may have a hidden (liberal statist) ideological agenda. We cannot safely assume that those befuddled by economic tasks will eventually become adroit political players. Furthermore, research often demonstrates zero about political progress that results from political activism, though it persuasively asserts that such gains have been made. Scholars also forget that most goals that can be pursued in the civic realm can also be sought through private channels. Millions of parents, for example, have secured better educations for their children simply by abandoning public education, not battling "the system." This volume constitutes both a powerful challenge to the dogma that political activism is an unqualified good, and a strong case that in many instances following the private route may be the superior option. It will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, and students of public policy.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 349 pages
  • 187.96 x 243.84 x 17.78mm | 589.67g
  • Taylor & Francis Inc
  • Transaction Publishers
  • Somerset, United Kingdom
  • English
  • New.
  • 0765802619
  • 9780765802613

Review quote

-The Limits of Civic Activism constitutes both a powerful challenge to the dogma that political activism is an unqualified good, and a strong case that in many instances following the private route may be the superior option. The book will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, and students of public policy.- --SirReadaLot.org -Weissberg's analysis of civic activism is provocative but insightful. He offers an alternative voice that should be heard widely. Readers will often be tempted to argue with him, but the fact that they will find it hard to do so is a measure of how well he makes his case.- --Richard Niemi, University of Rochester -Learning from Prof. Weissberg, whether in person or in print, is always a treat. He excels in helping us place hopes and expectations in separate baskets. The Limits of Civic Activism surely can help our sort--and most of us in the social sciences sorely need it.- --John A. Baden, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment -In his thoroughly engaging book, The Limits of Civic Activism: Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics, Robert Weissberg questions the conventional wisdom among political scientists who study political participation that political engagement is woefully lacking and that activism in the pursuit of government solutions to social problems is the desirable remedy. Weissberg argues that if academics would only observe the real world, they would see a society infatuated with politics, in which besieging the government for the solution of perceived ills is omnipresent. He provides, through scrutiny of the successes and failures of the civil rights movement and AIDS activism, a cautionary tale, in which initial successes must be balanced against subsequent failures and lost opportunities to seek nongovernmental remedies. Hidden within the political participation literature, Weissberg suspects, is an ideologically driven agenda to promote liberalism, an agenda that looks to government as the panacea for our ills, and to the growth of government as a desirable outcome of increased citizen activism. This is a pathbreaking work that poses a challenge that cannot be ignored by those who craft the political participation literature and college textbooks.- --Ellen Frankel Paul, Deputy Director, Social Philosophy & Policy Center and Professor of Political Science "The Limits of Civic Activism constitutes both a powerful challenge to the dogma that political activism is an unqualified good, and a strong case that in many instances following the private route may be the superior option. The book will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, and students of public policy." --SirReadaLot.org "Weissberg's analysis of civic activism is provocative but insightful. He offers an alternative voice that should be heard widely. Readers will often be tempted to argue with him, but the fact that they will find it hard to do so is a measure of how well he makes his case." --Richard Niemi, University of Rochester "Learning from Prof. Weissberg, whether in person or in print, is always a treat. He excels in helping us place hopes and expectations in separate baskets. The Limits of Civic Activism surely can help our sort--and most of us in the social sciences sorely need it." --John A. Baden, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment "In his thoroughly engaging book, The Limits of Civic Activism: Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics, Robert Weissberg questions the conventional wisdom among political scientists who study political participation that political engagement is woefully lacking and that activism in the pursuit of government solutions to social problems is the desirable remedy. Weissberg argues that if academics would only observe the real world, they would see a society infatuated with politics, in which besieging the government for the solution of perceived ills is omnipresent. He provides, through scrutiny of the successes and failures of the civil rights movement and AIDS activism, a cautionary tale, in which initial successes must be balanced against subsequent failures and lost opportunities to seek nongovernmental remedies. Hidden within the political participation literature, Weissberg suspects, is an ideologically driven agenda to promote liberalism, an agenda that looks to government as the panacea for our ills, and to the growth of government as a desirable outcome of increased citizen activism. This is a pathbreaking work that poses a challenge that cannot be ignored by those who craft the political participation literature and college textbooks." --Ellen Frankel Paul, Deputy Director, Social Philosophy & Policy Center and Professor of Political Science "The Limits of Civic Activism constitutes both a powerful challenge to the dogma that political activism is an unqualified good, and a strong case that in many instances following the private route may be the superior option. The book will be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, and students of public policy." --SirReadaLot.org "Weissberg's analysis of civic activism is provocative but insightful. He offers an alternative voice that should be heard widely. Readers will often be tempted to argue with him, but the fact that they will find it hard to do so is a measure of how well he makes his case." --Richard Niemi, University of Rochester "Learning from Prof. Weissberg, whether in person or in print, is always a treat. He excels in helping us place hopes and expectations in separate baskets. The Limits of Civic Activism surely can help our sort--and most of us in the social sciences sorely need it." --John A. Baden, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment "In his thoroughly engaging book, The Limits of Civic Activism: Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics, Robert Weissberg questions the conventional wisdom among political scientists who study political participation that political engagement is woefully lacking and that activism in the pursuit of government solutions to social problems is the desirable remedy. Weissberg argues that if academics would only observe the real world, they would see a society infatuated with politics, in which besieging the government for the solution of perceived ills is omnipresent. He provides, through scrutiny of the successes and failures of the civil rights movement and AIDS activism, a cautionary tale, in which initial successes must be balanced against subsequent failures and lost opportunities to seek nongovernmental remedies. Hidden within the political participation literature, Weissberg suspects, is an ideologically driven agenda to promote liberalism, an agenda that looks to government as the panacea for our ills, and to the growth of government as a desirable outcome of increased citizen activism. This is a pathbreaking work that poses a challenge that cannot be ignored by those who craft the political participation literature and college textbooks." --Ellen Frankel Paul, Deputy Director, Social Philosophy & Policy Center and Professor of Political Science "Weissberg's analysis of civic activism is provocative but insightful. He offers an alternative voice that should be heard widely. Readers will often be tempted to argue with him, but the fact that they will find it hard to do so is a measure of how well he makes his case."--Richard Niemi, University of Rochester "Learning from Prof. Weissberg, whether in person or in print, is always a treat. He excels in helping us place hopes and expectations in separate baskets. "The Limits of Civic Activism" surely can help our sort--and most of us in the social sciences sorely need it."--John A. Baden, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment "In his thoroughly engaging book, "The Limits of Civic Activism: Cautionary Tales on the Use of Politics," Robert Weissberg questions the conventional wisdom among political scientists who study political participation that political engagement is woefully lacking and that activism in the pursuit of government solutions to social problems is the desirable remedy. Weissberg argues that if academics would only observe the real world, they would see a society infatuated with politics, in which besieging the government for the solution of perceived ills is omnipresent. He provides, through scrutiny of the successes and failures of the civil rights movement and AIDS activism, a cautionary tale, in which initial successes must be balanced against subsequent failures and lost opportunities to seek nongovernmental remedies. Hidden within the political participation literature, Weissberg suspects, is an ideologically driven agenda to promote liberalism, an agenda that looks to government as the panacea for our ills, and to the growth of government as a desirable outcome of increased citizen activism. This is a pathbreaking work that poses a challenge that cannot be ignored by those who craft the political participation literature and college textbooks."--Ellen Frankel Paul, Deputy Director, Social Philosophy & Policy Center and Professor of Political Science
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About Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is professor of political science emeritus, University of Illinois-Urbana. He is the author of Polling, Policy and Public Opinion, The Politics of Empowerment, Political Tolerance, and Political Learning, Political Choice and Democratic Citizenship.
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