THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
We are left to swim in a sea of empirical and theoretical messiness.
Intolerably blunted conceptual tools are conducive, on the one hand, to
wasteful if not misleading research, and, on the other hand, to a meaning-
less togetherness based on pseudo-equivalences.
—Giovanni Sartori, “Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics”
I HAVE ALREADY BEGUN the case against civic engagement. In this chapter I introduce further evidence that consigns the term to exile or obsolescence, including an overview of its short but mischievous life. I will also expound on my proposed replacements. We need a richer vocabulary to help us think and talk about the various kinds of attention and activity that help to make democracy work.
Some might doubt whether we can or should distinguish among political, social, and moral engagements. Not only can we, but Hannah Arendt correctly asserts that we ignore those distinctions at our peril. To Arendt, politics comprises the space of human freedom and “the social” must not infect its domain.1 Arendt’s “social” denotes a realm of human life marked by necessity that opposes freedom.2 Her category of the “social” thus includes economics, which must be barred from consideration in the free political realm. Politics, conversely, involves people coming together freely to strive greatly, act boldly, and—in the shining light generated by free individuals acting cooperatively—reveal their distinctiveness and find meaning in their lives. I demur from Arendt’s idiosyncratic characterizations of the political and the social but I agree with her overarching point: politics loses all meaning if anything and everything can fall within its purview.3
Arendt also stresses the vital importance of judgment and “thinking what we are doing,” traits and orientations that resemble what I call moral engagement.4 In the absence of judgment—in the presence of
1 Cf. Pitkin (1998).
2 Arendt (1959: 37, 51; 1963: 96–97; 1973: 329).
3 Mark E. Warren also distinguishes between “politically (power) oriented associations”
and “socially oriented associations.” See Mark E. Warren (2001: 122).
4 Arendt (1959: 5).