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Narratives of Civic Duty: How National Stories Shape Democracy in Asia, Aram Hur

Reviewed by Hannes B. Mosler
 

Aristotle famously argued that democracy depends crucially on how well its members feel responsible and obligated to exercise their civic duties, such as obeying the law, paying taxes, voting in elections, as well as staying informed, engaging in debate, and other forms of political participation. At a time when democracies are “eroding,” “declining,” and even “dying,” the question of how to improve the quality of democracy has never been more pertinent. But what makes civic duty work today? This is the central question of Narratives of Civic Duty: How National Stories Shape Democracy in Asia.

In the first of the book's three parts (part one), after laying out the big picture in the introduction (chapter 1), Hur unpacks her “National Theory of Civic Duty” (chapter two), which argues that civic duty, or the “sense of obligation to be a good citizen, even if it is costly,” arises from “national attachments.” While nationalism is typically viewed as illiberal and exclusionary, Hur contends that whether it helps or hinders democracy depends on the nature of the “historicized relationship” between a national people and their democratic state (16). When “national stories” portray the relationship as mutually committed, nationalism can strengthen democracies by

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