Governance in Dark Times: Practical Philosophy for Public Service

Governance in Dark Times: Practical Philosophy for Public Service

Governance in Dark Times: Practical Philosophy for Public Service

Governance in Dark Times: Practical Philosophy for Public Service


With the rush of calamitous events in recent years -- the September 11 terror attacks, the Iraq imbroglio, and hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- Americans feel themselves to be living in dark times. Trust in one another and in the government is at low ebb. People in public service face profound challenges to the meaning and efficacy of their work. Where can a public servant turn for a public philosophy to sustain practice?

Inspired by Hannah Arendt and several other philosophers, Governance in Dark Times is the first book to explore the philosophical and value underpinnings needed to guide public servants in these times. Featuring down-to-earth discussions of such issues as terrorism, torture, and homeland security, it suggests ways for people in government to think more deeply, judge more wisely, and act more meaningfully. Camilla Stivers argues that the most urgent requirement in dark times is re-kindling what Arendt called "the light of the public," and offers practical steps for public servants to create spaces for citizen dialogue and engagement in public life. Ideas like "governance of the common ground" and "public service as social hope" will spark discussion and encourage renewed dedication to the work of governing.

Grounded in the author's more than thirty years of teaching and administrative practice, Governance in Dark Times urges public servants in clear, jargon-free prose to reflect, to understand the world we live in, and to act responsibly, both individually and with fellow citizens.


The catastrophic events of September ii, zooi, brought Americans face to face with profound questions that in ordinary times people seldom consider. Few who watched the unfolding effects of the terrorist attacks, or read accounts of them, could have helped but feel the pity and terror that tragedy calls forth. the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, the destruction of a part of the Pentagon, and the actions of individuals who, faced with certain death, chose to spend their last moments preventing an airliner from finding its target—such spectacles seem at once to defy and to require understanding. Government efforts to strengthen homeland security and root out terrorists are no doubt important on a practical level. But they are overshadowed by images of direct confrontation with life and fate. the enormity of that day lingers, along with a sense of the fragility of our lives and those of the people we love.

Consider the words of two public servants who sifted through mounds of debris at the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. They were looking to rescue and preserve objects as small as a quarter-inch in diameter. Their contact with the World Trade Center attack was more direct than most, but many Americans felt and thought as they did. “It's unnerving to realize that history happened,” said fbi Special Agent Richard B. Marx as he selected items to go into museums. “It's made me more thankful for the things that can't be replaced in life. People, families, friendships. Things mean more to me than they used to. I

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