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Systems of Survival
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About the Author

Jane Jacobs was the legendary author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a work that has never gone out of print and that has transformed the disciplines of urban planning and city architecture. Her other major works include The Economy of Cities, Systems of Survival, and The Nature of Economies. She died in 2006.

Reviews

In her latest contribution to liberal theory, Jacobs ( Cities and the Wealth of Nations , LJ 6/15/84) argues that modern societies utilize two distinctive moral systems--one being suited to the world of commerce, the other to the world of politics. Commercial morality is unsentimental, nonpartisan, and efficacious; political morality is personalistic, expansive, and vaguely altruistic. The problem is that we don't always know which system of morality to employ in concrete situations. Furthermore, the wrong choice can have disastrous consequences. Unfortunately, Jacobs invents a rather wooden cast of characters who engage in a Socratic dialog that reproduces the author's perspective on the two fundamental types of morality. As a result, the book's credible philosophical message becomes obscured by the superficiality and hamfistedness of the characters' conversations. A few readers may find Jacobs's literary device helpful; most will find it distracting. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/92.-- Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York

"Altogether magnificent . . . Probably no single thinker has done more in the last fifty years to transform our ideas about the nature of urban life." --Chicago Tribune "[With] piercing analysis, crystalline prose and [a] finely-honed sense of morality, Jacobs covers an amazing amount of ground." --Cleveland Plain Dealer "Superb . . . Cobbling together a little urban anthropology, a little economic history, and a vast store of highly nuanced personal observations . . . Jacobs is an indispensable provocateur." --Village Voice Literary Supplement

Written in the form of a Platonic dialogue between a Manhattan publisher and his party guests, Jacobs's often confusing inquiry posits that two contradictory ethical systems underpin the realms of work and politics. The ``commercial syndrome,'' prevalent in business, trade and science, fosters honesty and cooperation, encouraging people to be industrious and thrifty and to invest for productive purposes. The ``guardian syndrome,'' which holds sway over armies, police, government bureaucracies and commercial monopolies, instills obedience, respect for hierarchy, loyalty and fatalism. When either moral syndrome embraces functions inappropriate to it, contends Jacobs ( The Economy of Cities ), corruption ensues. She uses this simplistic schema to shed light on corporate merger manias, Pentagon waste, organized crime (a ``monstrous hybrid of the two systems'') and Sweden's welfare state. Urging a ``guardian-commercial symbiosis'' to combat force, fraud and greed, Jacobs cites pollution-cutting technologies and democratic access to business credit as provocative examples. (Dec.)

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