The Politics of Virtue Today: A Critique and a Proposal

Originally published in American Political Science Review 87 (2), 1993
  • Shelley Burtt


Burtt initially distinguishes various strands of thought on civic virtue, particularly a public, participatory republican version (e.g., Rousseau or Tocqueville) and a more private, less participatory liberal orientation (e.g., J. S. Mill). Then, drawing especially on Machiavelli and Rousseau, Burtt argues that classical conceptions of civic virtue simply demand too much from humans who are typically concerned with personal ambition and comfort. Burtt finds that some contemporary versions of civic virtue (Barber 1984; Bellah et al. 1985; Etzioni 1996; Sandel 1982; 1996) are similarly unrealistic. Finally, drawing on the eighteenth-century English classic Cato’s Letters and two contemporary American political analysts (Elkin 1987;Ackerman 1984), Burtt argues that civic virtue can be envisioned in a much more practical and socially salutary way by basing it on citizen self-interest.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References and Further Reading

  1. Ackerman, B. 1984. The Storrs lectures: Discovering the Constitution. Yale Law Journal 93: 1013–1072.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almond, G., and S. Verba. 1963. The civic culture: Political attitudes and democracy in five nations. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barber, B. 1984. Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bellah, R., R. Madsen, W. Sullivan, A. Swidler, and S. Tipton. 1985. Habits of the heart: Individualism and commitment in American life. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  5. Burtt, S. 1993. The politics of virtue today: A critique and a proposal. American Political Science Review 87: 360–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Elkin, S. 1987. City and regime in the American republic. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  7. Etzioni, A. 1996. The new golden rule: Community and morality in a democratic society. New York: Basic.Google Scholar
  8. Huntington, S., M. Crozier, and J. Watanuki. 1975. The crisis of democracy: Report to the Trilateral Commission of the task force on governability of democracies. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Inglehart, R. 1988. The renaissance of political culture. American Political Science Review 82: 1203–1230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Inglehart, R. 1997. Modernization and postmodernization: Cultural, economic and political change in 43 societies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Inglehart, R., and M. Carballo. 1997. Does Latin America exist? (And is there a Confucian culture?): A global analysis of cross-cultural differences. PS: Political Science and Politics 30: 34–47.Google Scholar
  12. Muller, E., and M. Seligson. 1994. Civic culture and democracy: The question of causal relationships. American Political Science Review 88: 635–652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Olson, M. 1965. The logic of collective action. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Pateman, C. 1971. Political culture, political structure and political change. British Journal of Political Science 1: 291–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Pateman, C. 1980. The civic culture: A philosophic critique. In The civic culture revisited, edited by G. Almond and S. Verba. Boston: Little, Brown.Google Scholar
  16. Putnam, R. 1993. The prosperous community: Social capital and public life. The American Prospect 13 (Spring): 35–42.Google Scholar
  17. Putnam, R. 1995a. Bowling alone: America’s declining social capital. Journal of Democracy 6: 65–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Putnam, R. 1995b. Tuning in, tuning out: The strange disappearance of social capital in America. PS: Political Science and Politics 28: 664–683.Google Scholar
  19. Putnam, R., with R. Leonardi and R. Nanetti. 1988. Institutional performance and political culture: Some puzzles about the power of the past. Governance 1: 221–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Putnam, R. 1993. Making democracy work: Civic traditions in modern Italy. Princeton: NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Rose, R., and G. Peters. 1978. Can government go bankrupt? New York: Basic.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sandel, M. 1982. Liberalism and the limits of justice. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Sandel, M. 1996. Democracy’s discontent: America in search of a public philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Tarrow, S. 1996. Making social science work across space and time: A critical reflection on Robert Putnam’s Making democracy work. American Political Science Review 90: 389–397.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Lane Crothers and Charles Lockhart 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shelley Burtt

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations