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Good Neighbors:
The Democracy of Everyday Life in America
Nancy L. Rosenblum

Paperback | May 2018 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691180762
Hardcover | 2016 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691169439
312 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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"Love thy neighbor" is an impossible exhortation. Good neighbors greet us on the street and do small favors, but neighbors also startle us with sounds at night and unleash their demons on us, they monitor and reproach us, and betray us to authorities. The moral principles prescribed for friendship, civil society, and democratic public life apply imperfectly to life around home, where we interact day to day without the formal institutions, rules of conduct, and means of enforcement that guide us in other settings.

In Good Neighbors, Nancy Rosenblum explores how encounters among neighbors create a democracy of everyday life, which has been with us since the beginning of American history and is expressed in settler, immigrant, and suburban narratives and in novels, poetry, and popular culture. During disasters, like Hurricane Katrina, the democracy of everyday life is a resource for neighbors who improvise rescue and care. Degraded, this framework can give way to betrayal by neighbors, as faced by the Japanese Americans interned during World War II, or to terrible violence such as the lynching of African Americans. Under extreme conditions the barest act of neighborliness is a bulwark against total ethical breakdown. The elements of the democracy of everyday life—reciprocity, speaking out, and "live and let live"—comprise a democratic ideal not reducible to public principles of justice or civic virtue, but it is no less important. The democracy of everyday life, Rosenblum argues, is the deep substrate of democracy in America and can be its saving remnant.

Nancy L. Rosenblum is the Senator Joseph Clark Professor of Ethics in Politics and Government at Harvard University. Her books include On the Side of the Angels and Membership and Morals (both Princeton).


"[Rosenblum] draws on a wide range of historical, literary, and sociological sources--from the stories of Raymond Carver to an ethnography of Crown Heights, Brooklyn--to produce a kaleidoscopic picture of American neighborliness."--Joshua Rothman, New Yorker

"Rosenblum's book is an accessible, always interesting, narrative-filled theoretical engagement. Whether one agrees or disagrees, the journey is nuanced, insightful and original."--P.E. Digeser, Perspectives on Politics


"Nancy Rosenblum is singular among philosophers in using her formidable analytical gifts to help us understand the gritty, personal questions we ordinary humans face every day--and she thereby respects what is extraordinary in all of us. Good Neighbors and its elevation of ‘the democracy of everyday life' is a balm and a tonic but also a challenge at a moment when our politics is the antithesis of neighborliness."--E. J. Dionne Jr., author of Why the Right Went Wrong and Our Divided Political Heart

"The people next door have never been a subject for political theory. But in Good Neighbors, Nancy Rosenblum has written a very smart and wonderfully engrossing book about the importance of neighborliness in American life. From now on, neighbors will stand with citizens in our understanding of the politics of the everyday and of the human response to crisis."--Michael Walzer, Institute for Advanced Study

"In her brilliant new book, Rosenblum shows that democratic participation demands of both citizen and neighbor a precarious double act. Her innovative inquiry into neighborliness derives from her humanistic interest in literature and other narrative forms for the interpretation of everyday experience. This book has remarkable and lasting salience for humanists and social scientists alike."--Homi K. Bhaba, Harvard University

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Table of Contents:

Introduction: Good Neighbor Nation 1
Part I. The Lay of the Land 21
1. Who Is My Neighbor? 23
2. Narrative Threads: Settlers, Immigrants, and Suburban “Grotesques” 44
Part II. The Democracy of Everyday Life 69
3. Reciprocity among “Decent Folk” 71
4. Taking Offense, Speaking Out 91
5. What Anyone Would Do, Here 108
6. Live and Let Live 131
Part III. Holding Our Lives in Their Hands 151
7. Betrayal 153
8. Killing 174
9. Disasters 200
Part IV. Minding Our Own Business 217
10. Thoreau’s Neighbors 219
Conclusion: Political Theory and the Democracy of Everyday Life in America 234
Acknowledgments 249
Notes 251
Index 293

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Nancy L. Rosenblum:

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