The Perversion of Autonomy: The Proper Uses of Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society

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Free Press, 1996 - Philosophy - 270 pages
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Civilization depends on the community's right to insist on certain conduct from its citizens. But today, a misguided reverence for individual freedom has denied the community this right, to the detriment of everyone. In the hallowed name of freedom, Americans have sanctified and legislated individual rights to a point that defies all common sense and offends all accepted principles of decency. Combining insights from modern psychological and political theory, best-selling author Willard Gaylin and co-author Bruce Jennings argue powerfully that we in America are now beginning to see the dark side of a decadent, overripe individualism. That individualism - once the glory of our democracy - has been extended and distorted to the point where it now threatens the very institutions that are necessary to support it. Gaylin and Jennings tell us that we must change the everyday behavior shaping the landscape of modern American society. Our current culture of autonomy is predicated on rationality as the basis of human conduct. But, we are reminded here, man is not inherently rational; appeals to emotion are far more effective than logical argument in changing our conduct. Thus, in order to motivate socially desirable behavior, society has not just the right but the duty to invoke fear, shame, and guilt, as well as pride. Persuasion and even direct coercion have claims to moral legitimacy. The authors show us, through their compelling arguments and examples, specific coercions that must be put into place if we are to stop the undermining of our democratic way of life and to preserve a free and liberal society.

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THE PERVERSION OF AUTONOMY: The Proper Uses of Coercion and Constraints in a Liberal Society

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A muffled clarion call to deliberately vague action resounds in this philosophical and political attack on autonomy. In recent times, the uneasy balance between individualist and communitarian values ... Read full review


A Self of Ones
Land of the Free
Seduced by Autonomy

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About the author (1996)

Willard Gaylin, M.D., is the author of fifteen books, including "Feelings", "The Killing of Bonnie Garland", and "The Rage Within". A clinical professor of psychology at Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, he cofounded of The Hastings Center, a research institute for ethical issues in the life sciences.

Jennings is Executive Director of The Hastings Center, Briarcliff Manor, New York.

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