The Age of Responsibility:
Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State
This event includes a book signing
April 28, 2017
Harvard Book Store
1256 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138
This event is free; no tickets are required.
Harvard Book Store welcomes Harvard University Lecturer on Political Theory YASCHA MOUNK for a discussion of his book, The Age of Responsibility: Luck, Choice, and the Welfare State.
About The Age of Responsibility
A novel focus on “personal responsibility” has transformed political thought and public policy in America and Europe. Since the 1970s, responsibility—which once meant the moral duty to help and support others—has come to suggest an obligation to be self-sufficient. This narrow conception of responsibility has guided recent reforms of the welfare state, making key entitlements conditional on good behavior. Drawing on intellectual history, political theory, and moral philosophy, Yascha Mounk shows why the Age of Responsibility is pernicious—and how it might be overcome.
Personal responsibility began as a conservative catchphrase. But over time, leaders across the political spectrum came to subscribe to its underlying framework. Today, even egalitarian philosophers rarely question the normative importance of responsibility. Emphasizing the pervasive influence of luck over our lives, they cast the poor as victims who cannot be held responsible for their actions.
Mounk shows that today’s focus on individual culpability is both wrong and counterproductive: it distracts us from the larger economic forces determining aggregate outcomes, ignores what we owe our fellow citizens regardless of their choices, and blinds us to other key values, such as the desire to live in a society of equals. Recognizing that even society’s neediest members seek to exercise genuine agency, Mounk builds a positive conception of responsibility. Instead of punishing individuals for their past choices, he argues, public policy should aim to empower them to take responsibility for themselves—and those around them.
"A terrific book. The insight at its heart―that we live in an ‘age of responsibility,’ and that the conception of responsibility now at work in much public rhetoric and policy is both punitive and ill-conceived―is very important and should be widely heeded." —Jedediah Purdy, author of After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene
"Yascha Mounk traces the faltering legitimacy of the welfare state to the narrow notion of personal responsibility that politicians―and many philosophers―have come to embrace. In a compelling challenge to conservatives and liberals alike, this important book prompts us to reconsider the role of luck and choice in debates about welfare, and to rethink our mutual responsibilities as citizens." —Michael J. Sandel, author of What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
Walking from the Harvard Square T station: 2 minutes
As you exit the station, reverse your direction and walk east along Mass. Ave. in front of the Cambridge Savings Bank. Cross Dunster St. and proceed along Mass. Ave for three more blocks. You will pass Au Bon Pain, JP Licks, and TD Bank. Harvard Book Store is located at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Plympton St.
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