In This Review

Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership.
Stories of Peoplehood: The Politics and Morals of Political Membership.
By Rogers M. Smith
Cambridge University Press, 2003, 248 pp

Behind nations, states, regions, and other political groupings lies the notion of a distinct "people" who share a common identity and are bound together by rights and obligations. In this important inquiry into the sources and changing character of political community, Smith argues that the "we" in "we the people" does not emerge organically from particular economic, territorial, demographic, ancestral, linguistic, or cultural circumstances. Rather, it is constructed through interactions between leaders and followers who tell stories of blood and inheritance in the search for a stable and legitimate organization of authority. Smith ambitiously claims that a universal logic lurks behind such projects. Sampling widely across eras and regions, he explores the processes by which a shared sense of political "peoplehood" is generated and sustained and ends with a reflection on the dilemmas and normative implications of the process. Strong perceptions of peoplehood, he notes, can foster democracy and self-determination but also unleash chauvinism, racism, and violence. Smith finds some hope, however, in the stories of American history, which offer open, inclusive, and expanding narratives of political community.