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  • Editor’s Introduction
  • Trygve Thronveit

What is democracy? Is it a form, or a quality? A process, or a goal? A type of government, or a relation between government and governed and among the governed themselves? Is it “a” thing at all, or is it thoroughly plural—not just historically or demographically, but logically, morally, and metaphysically? Finally, whatever its essential nature, is democracy a genuine possibility that actual communities can realize given enough hard work and thinking? Or is it merely a rhetorical device for eliciting, from the powerful, the bare minimum of justice required to forestall chaos?

In a variety of ways—some complementary, some (at least apparently) contradictory—all the contributors to this volume of The Good Society question the dichotomies invoked above. Ana Romero-Iribas and Graham Smith draw on other students of the ancient Greek conception of “political friendship” to complicate the role of “reciprocity” in democratic societies. Romero-Iribas and Smith do not deny the value of what historian James T. Kloppenberg identifies as democracy’s foundational “rationale” for “treating all persons with respect,” and for “extend[ing] the category of those deserving consideration beyond the small body of citizens” in our familiar experience.1 Instead, they identify two forms of reciprocity, both of which undergird different types of friendship that can take political form: “reciprocity as exchange” (marked by active exchange of benefits in a recognized cycle) and “reciprocity as correspondence” (marked by tolerance of inactivity due to mutual admiration or commonality of purpose). [End Page iii] Moreover, the authors argue, it is possible to conceive of friendship—traditional or political—without reciprocation. In these alternative friendships it is the separateness of the friends rather than their togetherness that unites them. Perhaps, they conclude, many of today’s developed and (still) aspiring democracies would be strengthened if their citizens more diligently practiced the art of cultivating such friendships of estrangement, founded on a “common heterogeneity.”

What would such practice look like, and what might empower and motivate us to do it? Kristina Brezicha’s work suggests that the answers to both questions must begin with our schools. Brezicha’s critique of current approaches to youth political socialization draws on Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory of development to suggest an interdisciplinary theory that, in applied form, would emphasize schools’ potential to foster students’ feelings of belonging. By integrating research on belonging from the political science, sociology, psychology, and youth development fields with Bronfrenbrenner’s work, educators, in Brezicha’s view, can reclaim the school’s historical role of citizenship preparation without reverting to indoctrination or settling for rote memorization of the branches and functions of government.

As if to put a finer point on Brezicha’s argument, Maurizio Tinnirello and Michael Samuels insist that education at all levels must promote an explicitly critical stance toward global capitalism and the neoliberal norms and assumptions that drive and legitimize it, rather than “reflect” such norms and assumptions in curricula, pedagogy, and institutional structures. Where Brezicha sees schools as promising sites for fostering a complex sense of belonging to a diverse community striving for democracy, Tinnirello and Samuels see the education systems of the West as complicit in the fragmentation of political systems and social relations catalyzed by globalization. Rather than educating citizens to value individual opportunity and cultivate a narrow ethos of self-reliance, aspiring democracies should educate citizens to value mutualistic relationships with, and practice “cognitive compassion” for, their fellows—a course for which Tinnirello and Samuels offer some suggestions drawn from the playbooks of the neoliberals he criticizes.

In the final article of the volume, Daniel May suggests another site in which citizens might fruitfully encounter, apply, and refine a civically constructive theory of democratic politics: community organizing. Using the Industrial Areas Foundation as a case study, May draws on the political thought of Hannah Arendt to challenge frequent indictments of the IAF’s politics as instrumentally self-serving rather than democratically [End Page iv] self-interested in a broadly flourishing commonwealth. An Arendtian lens, May argues, reveals that the oldest community organizing network in the United States has long nurtured and embodied a view of politics as a space for facilitating frank disclosure of...


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