Does the Identity of a City Matter in a Global Age?
Cities shape the lives and outlooks of billions of people, yet they have been overshadowed in contemporary political thought by nation-states, identity groups, and concepts like justice and freedom. Avner de-Shalit’s new book (written with Daniel Bell), The Spirit of Cities, revives the classical idea that a city expresses its own distinctive ethos or values. In the ancient world, Athens was synonymous with democracy and Sparta represented military discipline;
Avner de-Shalit explores how this classical idea can be applied to today’s cities, and explains why philosophy and the social sciences need to rediscover the spirit of cities. Cities investigated include Jerusalem (religion), Montreal (language), Singapore (nation building), Hong Kong (materialism), Beijing (political power), Oxford (learning), Berlin (tolerance and intolerance), Paris (romance), and New York (ambition). Drawing upon the richly varied histories of each city, as well as novels, poems, biographies, tourist guides, architectural landmarks, and the authors’ own personal reflections and insights, they show how the ethos of each city is expressed in political, cultural, and economic life, and also how pride in a city’s ethos can oppose the homogenizing tendencies of globalization and curb the excesses of nationalism. De-Shalit is joined by Sunder Katwala, director of the new think tank British Future, which looks at identity, integration, migration and opportunity (www.britishfuture.org), and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.
Avner de-Shalit holds the Max Kampelman Chair for Democracy and Human Rights and is dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. His books include Disadvantage and Power to the People: Teaching Political Philosophy in Skeptical Times and now The Spirit of Cities: Why the Identity of a City Matters in a Global Age.
Sunder Katwala is the Director of British Future. He has previously worked as a journalist. He was General Secretary of the Fabian Society thinktank from 2003 to 2011, and was previously a leader writer and internet editor at the Observer, a research director of the Foreign Policy Centre and commissioning editor for politics and economics at the publisher Macmillan. His support for Everton and Southend United football clubs reflects an upbringing in Cheshire and Essex, though he was born in Doncaster, Yorkshire, to parents who came to Britain from India and Ireland, to work for the NHS.
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