A pacesetter, at the forefront in recognizing the persisting importance of ethnicity as a force both in building nations and in tearing them apart, it is also a work of literary merit, crafted by a master wordsmith. So comments Lucian Pye in reflecting on this classic work in political science and sociology about group identities bending and shaping themselves under the pressure of political change. These transformations seem to have basic similarities, whether they take place in Little Rock or Kenya, Vietnam or Pakistan, Belgium or Biafra.Isaacs sorts out some fundamentals in forming group identity: the body, names, language, history of origins, religion, and nationality. These are dynamic elements that are melded together but have the possibility of creating new pluralisms. Diane Ravitch wrote in "Commentary" Isaacs's survey of global pluralism is enormously helpful in broadening our perspective, and should be required reading for anyone who cares about the shape of ethnicity in America. "
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(208mm x 140mm x 19mm)
Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A compact and forthright enumeration of childish allegiances to group identities. The essential motive for clutching at any view of self based on a group narrower than the human species, Isaacs suggests, is the infantile fear of aloneness. And the lack of other sources of self-esteem in this society drives people to soothe and protect themselves with ethnic Linus blankets. A puerile emphasis on bodily features is found not only in the imposition of "skin" concepts on black people, but in most nationalist and ethnic group-think. The magic of names and language, reflected in the term "mother tongue," is grounded in the baby's reliance on his parents to control the world for him by unknown but powerful means. Religious magic is more complicated, Isaacs continues, but often boils down to the same "warming comforters"; and national adherence depends on "powerful primordial associations." Having so concisely dissected these limitations on an individual's ability to think rationally about the world as a whole, one expects Isaacs - author of The Failure of the Chinese Revolution - widely considered one of the best studies ever done of the early days of Maoist movement - to offer a firmer conclusion than his parting hope that perhaps someday we will see a pacific, wholesome pluralism of groups. Two other major gaps occur in his prefatory historical discussions - he writes as if the post-colonial Balkanization of Asian and African regions just "happened" without Western involvement; and, though he discusses various kinds of Jewish "tribal" identity at length, he omits to mention the way the Nazis played on "group identity," for example in occupied Belgium and Czechoslovakia, not to mention Germany. The divide-and-rule principle of power politics is here ignored in favor of "primordial" instincts; a dear survey of half the picture. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Harold R. Isaacs
Lucian Pye is Ford Professor of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the author of Mao Tse-Tung: The Man in the Leader.