Public Matters

Public Matters
by William A. Galston

William Galston is a most unusual hybrid: an academic political theorist who doubles as a political operative. He cut his teeth as issues director for the Mondale campaign in 1984-could there be a more chastening introduction to the national political stage?-and was subsequently active in the Democratic Leadership Council, which launched the Clinton presidency. Galston then served at the Clinton White House, although this chapter in his career is seldom referenced in the book under review. As Commonweal readers know, he is also a prolific writer. Thirteen of his recent essays have been collected in Public Matters, which provides an excellent introduction to Galston’s thinking on divisive policy questions (stem-cell research, the war in Iraq), the role of religion in public life, and the future of the Democratic Party.

Galston is an exponent of what he calls “liberal pluralist democracy”-an approach to politics that limits the role of government even as it champions the necessity of a strong state for purposes of individual and collective welfare. Save for the gravest of reasons, having literally to do with individual or collective survival, the state may not intrude on the sacred space of family, religion, and conscience. But the right to be left alone comes, as rights invariably do, with corresponding obligations. No matter how passionately an individual cleaves to a particular set of moral norms, she must be...

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About the Author

Leslie Woodcock Tentler, author of Catholics and Contraception: A History, is professor of history at the Catholic University of America.