Cover Image: The Bill of Obligations

The Bill of Obligations

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Member Reviews

Richard Haass is best known as a thoughtful, middle-of-the-road commentator on international affairs, and that's what his previous books have been devoted to. Here he turns his lens instead to how we can do better at home. While he draws on his knowledge of other countries, the focus is on preventing crises at home. Some of his recommendations are more structural and some are more personal, but all are wise. I share his concern that the US is at some risk of fracturing, particularly if there is another close, disputed election: If the 2000 election occurred today -- effectively a tie -- one hates to think what the Trumpists might do to win, and how the rest of the country would respond to another attempted theft of a presidential election. This book is part of the toolbox to prevent such a crisis, and it's a good one.

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Author Richard Haass is the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan think tank about foreign policy. His experience and deep knowledge of democracy and citizenship is clear in this book.

The premise of "The Bill of Obligations" is that Americans are passionately protective of their rights, but often fail to recognize the counterbalance of those rights— our responsibility to guard and protect our democracy through civics and citizenship. Haass suggests ten obligations to this end;
1. Be informed
2. Get Involved
3. Stay open to compromise
4. Remain civil
5. Reject violence
6. Value norms
7. Promote the common good
8. Respect Government Service
9. Support the Teaching of Civics
10. Put country first [above party]

"The Bill of Obligations" was written after Jan 6th and references the insurrection, but I don't think the book feels partisan. Haass quotes leaders and presidents of both parties and simply calls for "truth" to be prioritized.

After I got going, this was a quick read. Over 1/3 of the book consists of "notes". The chapters are short and meaningful. The resources are also fantastic. Plenty to think about here.

My thanks to the author, publisher and #NetGalley for providing me with an ARC.

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THE BILL OF OBLIGATIONS by Richard Haass offers a new perspective on the relationship between American people and their government. Whereas the focus has increasingly been on individual rights (e.g., second amendment right to bear arms), Haass explores the concept of obligation of citizens to the country and describes "The Ten Habits of Good Citizens." He begins that list with "be informed" and "get involved." Other ideas include staying open to compromise, rejecting violence, valuing norms, and respecting government service. I found the section about teaching civics to be particularly relevant and look forward to sharing this text with high school teachers. Dr. Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an experienced diplomat and policymaker, advisor to multiple Presidents, and a prolific author. THE BILL OF OBLIGATIONS is a very accessible text and could prompt numerous discussions (e.g., what examples can students find of placing the country and U.S. democracy above party and person?). Also, the "where to go for more" section is fabulous, with references to the National Archives as well as writings by numerous historians (Hofstadter, Lepore, Schlesinger, Jr., Tuchman, Zinn are just a few), and to presidential speeches and biographies. He cites several texts which we have previously reviewed: Last Best Hope, How Democracies Die, or The Upswing; plus specific newspapers, magazines and podcasts. THE BILL OF OBLIGATIONS is definitely worth a look for Haass's arguments and his sources (notes encompass about a third of the book)! Here, for example, are some relevant websites he recommends:
National Constitution Center and its Interactive Constitution
Common Sense Education
Khan Academy
Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics
American Citizenship test questions

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