(Reprinted with permission from the journal Choice, written by A.S. Rosenbaum.)
Adam B. Seligman of Boston University traces the strands of a mainly modernist, eighteenth-century European philosophical conception of trust and claims to disclose their normative but lessening function in the contemporary social relationships of our democratic civil society. His book, The Problem of Trust, is a creative, well-researched and well-reasoned contribution to interdisciplinary studies about the unfortunately diminishing role played by “trust” in our multicultural society. He finds that, as a result of emerging group identities, the heritage of “the individual” as the supreme seat of values and rights is being displaced, with a corresponding loss of a general sense of social cohesion or unity among the members of society. To make his case for the neglected but foundational role of trust (i.e., in making civil society and its institutions possible), he draws from the writings of Rousseau, Hume, Smith, Durkheim, C. Taylor, Habermas, Sandal, Fukuyama, and others. Of special interest is his exploration of various ways in which the ideas or the public and private realms of society are shifting in meaning in our political discourse, and of the impact such changes are presumably having on our vision(s) of right conduct and the good society. The author’s pedantic and ponderous writing style seems likely to limit the book’s appeal, despite its commendable theme. And some readers may be unconvinced that trust has—or ought to have—the basic explanatory importance the author attributes to it.