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Reviewed by:
  • Good Citizenship in America
  • Stephen Leonard
Good Citizenship in America. By David Ricci (New York, Cambridge University Press, 2004) 313 pp. $70.00 cloth $24.99 paper

Ricci's study of American citizenship is a historical and analytical inquiry with normative intent. The purposes of the work turn on the obvious—but not trivial—point that "in a democracy citizens rule, yet if they rule badly, all will suffer" (3). Ricci addresses the challenge of promoting good citizenship by way of a historical reconstruction of competing conceptions of citizenship; the social, political, and economic forces that shaped the discourse of citizenship; and an analysis of how these accounts and transformations comport with the ideal of an engaged and responsible citizenry.

Much of the historical inquiry is suggestive rather than exhaustive, and in its analytical content, the work is straightforward rather than subtle. These features make this study an unlikely scholarly reference about citizenship and civic life in the United States but an ideal introduction to developments, themes, and problematics in American civics. Readers familiar with the history and theory of civic discourse will likely quibble with the content of Ricci's narrative, and partisans of different ideals of citizenship may find his prescriptions (in Part III, Chapters 8 and 9, the core of which is a thinly veiled critique of modern conservatism) controversial. But Ricci's methodology, which entails crafting the materials to cohere in a conceptual framework focused on the central dimensions or aspects of citizenship, can turn the substantive deficiencies of the work into well-grounded opportunities for further inquiry. Good Citizenship in America may well be an excellent benchmark from which students of American civic life can begin their own intellectual—if not political—journeys.

Ricci parses (especially in Chapter 1) the discourse of citizenship in terms of its active moments, not its legalistic or formal meanings: obedience to sovereign authority (which he calls "Citizenship I"), participation in public life and the exercise of sovereign authority ("Citizenship II"), and the pursuit of moral and/or ethical "excellence," or virtue [End Page 296] ("Citizenship III"). Within this conceptual framework, Ricci broadly examines the substance of "Early Civic Ideas" (Chapter 2) and their articulation in both their "republican" (Chapter 3) and "democratic" (Chapter 4) expressions within the framework of "American Exceptionalism" (Part II, inclusive of Chapters 3–5). He then discusses the "challenge of good citizenship" raised by republican and democratic discourses (Chapter 5) as radically modified by "The Modern Economy" (Part III, inclusive of Chapters 6–7), especially in "the rise of consumerism" (Chapter 6) and "the costs of consumerism" (Chapter 7).

There are many ways to reconstruct the discourse of citizenship, but the great strength of Ricci's approach is that it invites systematic and rigorous thought about the complex historical legacy and analytically complicated issues that constitute civic discourse, both academic and popular. Ricci does not write in a style intended to provoke or challenge (though the book's assumed authority will be a source of provocation for some), but Good Citizenship in America contributes to sharpening the quality of debate and discussion among advocates of an active ideal of citizenship.

Stephen Leonard
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9169
Print ISSN
0022-1953
Pages
pp. 296-297
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-16
Open Access
No
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