The New Golden Rule

Complimentary statements on the jacket from such an unmatched pair of prominent reviewers as Betty Friedan and Arianna Huffington should alert readers to both the potential significance and the controversial nature of THE NEW GOLDEN RULE: COMMUNITY AND MORALITY IN A DEMOCRATIC SOCIETY.

Amitai Etzioni believes that society has gone overboard in protecting individual freedoms during the latter part of the twentieth century, to the detriment of social order. He seeks to remedy this situation, to create a safer society, without resorting to autocratic, repressive rules.

Many of Etzioni’s observations about late twentieth century American history are interesting and thought provoking. His analyses of the problems being faced, although not easy reading, are worthy of attention. His suggested remedies, however, do not go down so smoothly.

Etzioni admits that his ideas involve a shift away from traditional two-sided politics of social liberals versus conservatives. Readers of both inclinations will find some parts of his thesis unpalatable. The communitarian philosophy he espouses requires compromises from both sides. His new “rule” would protect individual rights cherished by liberals only up to the point at which communitarian ideals take precedence. However, unlike social conservatives, and especially unlike the religious far right, he supports various liberties that he does not view as threatening to community.

Etzioni says voluntary compliance, driven by an internal moral sense people learn as children, is better than legislating behavior. However, he proposes legislative changes which are not consistent with that preference, or with the facts of the situation. For example, he suggests that 90 percent of felony trial defendants are guilty. He proposes modifying trial rules to produce more convictions, apparently believing that large numbers of guilty people are being found innocent in trials. This flies in the face of statistics showing felony conviction rates are already approximately 90 percent in some parts of the United States. Lower conviction rates in other regions would be better addressed by local improvements (in law enforcement, judicial appointments, or jury training, for instance), than by a nationwide degradation of the Fifth Amendment or other potentially dangerous reductions in safeguards for the innocent.