personal liberty and the common good
amitai etzioni gave a nice workshop talk today on the new golden rule in the minnversity's fine political science department. the communitarian sociologist spoke about a familiar but fundamental problem: the tension between autonomy and personal liberty on the one hand and social order and public obligations on the other.
only it isn't really a problem for professor etzioni. he truly embraces such tensions or contradictions, diving into thorny areas such as HIV testing, privacy rights, and substance use regulation with real gusto. some parts of his work (i confess that i've only read a sliver of it, for the man writes much faster than i can read) remind me of landmark u.s. civil liberties opinions; in both cases, fine minds seek to balance the rights of individuals vis-a-vis the community with reference to a few core principles, all within the context of a concrete empirical case.
this is the sort of endeavor that initially attracted me to political science and legal study as an undergrad (well, at least insofar as appellate judgin' was romanticized in woodward and armstrong's the brethren). of course, i also encountered plato around that time and, like many poli sci 101 students, figgered that philosopher-king sounded like a pretty cool job too.
as a sociologist and as a private citizen today, i still haven't reconciled my own communitarian and libertarian impulses. professor etzioni makes a strong case for finding meaning in such contradictions, so for now i'll follow the asa president's precedent and simply embrace the tension.