A provocative guide to how we must reenvision citizenship if American democracy is to survive
The United States faces dangerous threats from Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, terrorists, climate change, and future pandemics. The greatest peril to the country, however, comes not from abroad but from within, from none other than ourselves. The question facing us is whether we are prepared to do what is necessary to save our democracy. The Bill of Obligations is a bold call for change. In these pages, New York Times bestselling author Richard Haass argues that the very idea of citizenship must be revised and expanded. The Bill of Rights is at the center of our Constitution, yet our most intractable conflicts often emerge from contrasting views as to what our rights ought to be. As former Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out, “Many of our cases, the most difficult ones, are not about right versus wrong. They are about right versus right.” The lesson is clear: rights alone cannot provide the basis for a functioning, much less flourishing, democracy.
But there is a cure: to place obligations on the same footing as rights. The ten obligations that Haass introduces here are essential for healing our divisions and safeguarding the country’s future. These obligations reenvision what it means to be an American citizen. They are not a burden but rather commitments that we make to fellow citizens and to the government to uphold democracy and counter the growing apathy, anger, selfishness, division, disinformation, and violence that threaten us all. Through an expert blend of civics, history, and political analysis, this book illuminates how Americans can rediscover and recover the attitudes and behaviors that have contributed so much to this country’s success over the centuries.
As Richard Haass argues, “We get the government and the country we deserve. Getting the one we need, however, is up to us.” The Bill of Obligations gives citizens across the political spectrum a plan of action to achieve it.
About the Author
Dr. Richard Haass is president of the nonpartisan Council on Foreign Relations. An experienced diplomat and policymaker, he served in the Pentagon, State Department, and White House under four presidents, Democrat and Republican alike. A recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the State Department’s Distinguished Honor Award, and the Tipperary International Peace Award, he is the author or editor of fifteen other books, including the bestselling The World: A Brief Introduction, A World in Disarray, and Foreign Policy Begins at Home.
“Richard Haass has turned his keen mind and large heart to the most important of questions: The meaning of citizenship. If American democracy is to endure, it will require all of us to embrace what Haass calls our common obligations. This is a vital work for a decisive time.” —Jon Meacham, author of And There Was Light: Abraham Lincoln and the American Struggle
“Democracy is more than procedures and laws. It is an ethical ideal that requires much of us if it is to succeed. Richard Haass powerfully describes what he calls the Bill of Obligations, commitments and values needed for these challenging times. We may not see eye-to-eye on all the issues, but here I agree: we need a clear and thoughtful statement of our obligations to each other and to the country if this grand and fragile experiment in democracy is to survive. The Bill of Obligations does just that!”—Eddie Glaude, James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor, Princeton University
“Americans argue a lot about their rights, but, as Richard Haass reminds us, democracy only works if we also recognize our responsibilities. His newest book reminds us of what those are, providing an indispensable guide to good citizenship in an era of division and rancor.” —Anne Applebaum, author of Twilight of Democracy: The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism
“In this essential book, Richard Haass calls upon us all to commit anew to the obligations of American citizenship upon which our increasingly faltering American democracy was founded. He rightly observes that the future of this country, if not the world, depends on our answering this clarion call to put patriotic, civic obligation front and center in the national political conversation. This book’s message is desperately needed if we are to bring an end to the poisonous politics eating away at the fabric of our society and begin to mend our tattered nation.” —J. Michael Luttig, former United States Court of Appeals judge
“The reasoned arguments [Richard Haass] presents make his eloquent book well worth the read.” —Booklist