In This Review

The War Against Authority: From the Crisis of Legitimacy to a New Social Contract
The War Against Authority: From the Crisis of Legitimacy to a New Social Contract
By Nicholas N. Kittrie
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995, 304 pp
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The title and introduction of this book are promising. Something like a global crisis of legitimacy has indeed emerged. In the United States, the rights revolution has undermined the authority of virtually every institution, from the family to the nation. Abroad, liberal democracy has spread, but its roots are shallow, and it is challenged by a host of alternative legitimating principles, from kinship to religion to nation. Kittrie’s book, unfortunately, strays early on from discussion of the contemporary crisis of legitimacy to an historical discussion of the sources of authority and rebellion. Its analysis is highly eclectic, bouncing from psychological to structural explanations and presenting too much disconnected detail. In the end, the book has no clear thesis regarding the origins of the contemporary crisis of legitimacy, and the proposed solution -- a new social contract based on greater pluralism -- is not different in kind from existing liberal orders and would not solve the fundamental question of authority they raise.