The Politics of Virtue Today: A Critique and a Proposal

  • 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.


Private Interest Liberal Politics Civic Virtue Good Citizen Modern Polity 
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© Lane Crothers and Charles Lockhart 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Shelley Burtt

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