Benjamin Barber

Walt Whitman Professor Emeritus at Rutgers University

Benjamin R. Barber (August 2, 1939April 24, 2017) was an American political theorist and author, known for his 1996 bestseller, Jihad vs. McWorld.

Benjamin Barber, 2010


  • Suffering is not necessarily a fixed and universal experience that can be measured by a single rod: it is related to situations, needs, and aspirations. But there must be some historical and political parameters for the use of the term so that political priorities can be established and different forms and degrees of suffering can be given the most attention.
  • I don't divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures, those who make it or those who don't. I divide the world into learners and nonlearners.
    • in: The Reader's digest vol. 140, no. 837-842 (1992), p. 159
  • Civility is a work of the imagination, for it is through the imagination that we render others sufficiently like ourselves for them to become subjects of tolerance and respect, if not always affection.
    • A Passion for Democracy: American Essays (2000) p. 211

Forced to be Free (1971)

Forced to be Free: An Illiberal Defense of Liberty, in Superman and Common Men (New York: 1971)
  • Those who have read the Russian novelists Bulgakov and Solzhenitsyn know how effective the debilitation can be which treats free actions as clinical abnormalities requiring hospitalization. … Acts of rebellion formerly regarded as manifestation of mere bestiality are now condoned as pathological outbursts; the possibility that such acts are the intentional projects of conscious men who are at once both demanding and expressing freedom is beyond the pale of conception. Thus are men robbed not only of their freedom but also of their dignity as creative human beings.
    • p. 68
  • Not only psychiatry itself but also the values reflected in its statistical definition of “normalcy” serve to condition men to habitual, unthinking, conformist behavior.
    • p. 68-69
  • Under these circumstances, men lose sight of themselves and escape into the security of work or sociability or other forms of what Vidich and Bensman have called the “externalization of the self.” Vidich and Bensman sketch a troubling picture of such men: “What is left of the personality is the dulled, autonomic ritualization of behavior where … no disturbing interferences are allowed to enter into thought. … Personal and social life becomes barren, and the personal mechanics and daily routine of living become the end-all of existence. All types of activity whose operation is based upon an objective, external, automatic rhythm to which an individual can bend himself serve the function of enabling him to lose himself in an objective ceremony.”
    • p. 69, quotation is from A. J. Vidich and J. Bensman, Small Town in Mass Society (New York), p. 315
  • A form of influence such as advertising sets out intentionally to insulate reactors (mindless consumers) from the more conscious and critical selves (potential abstainers) not by multiplying alternatives (as laisser-faire advocates of the market economy would like to believe) but by provoking dormant and partial desires in a way that circumvents the normal, conscious, rational process.
    • p. 69-70
  • The real struggle is in fact not for but against the minds of men. Persuasion as a form of coercion represents an assault on consciousness and intentionality.
    • p. 71
  • There is a therapy of self-indulgence and adjustment which is little more than another weapon in the arsenal of social conformity, and there is a therapy which “makes the unconscious conscious, enlarges the scope of awareness.” There is a socialization which turns curious children into adult automatons in a social environment of repressive uniformity, and there is a socialization which turns selfish, impulsive children into self-aware and deliberate participants in a larger community.
    • p. 72, quotation is from Rollo May, Man’s Search for Himself, p. 101
  • It is not inappropriate to describe the function of the teacher as that of acting to compel awareness. This is not to say that such compulsion contrives to bring a subject to act in the way in which the teacher believes the free man ought to act. It aspires only to assure that the subject is acting for himself and not as the mere instrument of unmediated impulses. There is even a compulsory quality about the Socratic method for, by asking questions, by enquiring in the reasons and grounds for doing this or that, it forces a man to conceive of himself in terms of intentions; it thereby forces him to be free.
    It does not force him, however, to act in a manner substantively different from this original impulses. … The man who swings at his enemy in blind rage may, after lengthy consideration of creative alternatives, swing at him with cool deliberation. The intentionalist cannot accept the tradition of Kant, Green, and Bosanquet which polarizes conscious duty and preconscious desire and presupposes that reflective awareness will always produce substantive changes in the character of our goals, for to him it is the qualitative change that turns mere impulses into goals that is significant for freedom.
    • p. 78-79

An Aristocracy of Everyone (1992)

Benjamin Barber An Aristocracy of Everyone (New York: 1992)
  • We know ourselves by understanding our temporality, our embeddedness in time, our connection to roots—even roots from which we have knowingly severed ourselves.
    • p. 22
  • Truly to be free, my choices must truly be mine—must accord with the “me” with which I associate my core identity. I must make them in keeping with rational life plans. They cannot be triggered by invisible external or covert influences; they must make manifest a will that is unfettered yet rationally informed by life plans.
    • p. 26

Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age (2003)

B.R. Barber (2003) Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age
  • Liberal democracy has been one of the sturdiest political systems in the history of the modern West. As the dominant modern form of democracy, it has informed and guided several of the most successful and enduring governments the world has known, not least among them that of the United States.
    • p. 3
  • The American political system is a remarkable example of the coexistence — sometimes harmonious, more often uncomfortable — of all three dispositions. Americans, we might say, are anarchists in their values (privacy, liberty, individualism, property, and rights); realists in their means (power, law, coercive mediation, and sovereign adjudication); and minimalists in their political temper (tolerance wariness of government, pluralism, and such institutionalizations of caution as the separation of powers and judicial review.
    • p. 5
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