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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

On Diversity

The Eclipse of the Individual in a Global Era

by Russell Jacoby

Book cover for On Diversity
Book cover for On DiversityBook cover for On Diversity

Diversity. You've heard the term everywhere—in the news, in the universities, at the television awards shows. Maybe even in the corporate world, where diversity initiatives have become de rigueur. But what does the term actually mean? Where does it come from? What are its intellectual precedents? Moreover, how do we square our love affair with diversity with the fact that the world seems to be becoming more and more, well, homogeneous? With a lucid, straightforward prose that rises above the noise, one of America's greatest intellectual gadflies, Russell Jacoby, takes these questions squarely on. Discussing diversity (or lack thereof) in language, fashion, childhood experience, political structure, and the history of ideas, On Diversity: The Eclipse of the Individual in a Global Era offers a surprising and penetrating analysis of our cultural moment. In an age where our public thinkers seem to be jumping over one another to have the latest correct opinion, Jacoby offers a most dangerous, and liberating, injunction: to stop and think.

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“Russell Jacoby has written a cogent and provocative essay on the paradoxes of identity, and he asks questions that yield no comforting answers. Does a concern with diversity of cultures strengthen diversity of thought? Has the global scaling-up of American mass society left us with more groups and fewer individuals? A highly personal inquiry into the jargon of authenticity, this book is also a fascinating history of a central modern idea."”

“In this book, as he has throughout his career, Russell Jacoby asks the necessary questions, the ones few other contemporary writers care to pose. How is it, he wonders, that the explosion of officially sanctioned “diversity” has been accompanied by a decline of individuality? His answer takes us on a scintillating journey through the history of ideas, including Constant, Herder, Tocqueville, Mill, Herzen, Burckhardt, Durkheim, Randolph Bourne, Walter Benjamin, and many others. On Diversity is first-rate intellectual history and penetrating cultural criticism.”

“Russell Jacoby’s new book offers an implacable and unprecedented dose of resistance to an unreflective mantra. Without denying group-based injustice in American life, Jacoby bracingly affirms the importance of the individual distinction that our classic thinkers identified as the ultimate aspiration for an age of accelerating conformity in how we raise our children, what we wear, and how we talk. A must-read.”

“Russell Jacoby is the best kind of intellectual provocateur, a philosopher skeptic who knows that the pursuit of justice does not in itself yield truth and often enough yields falsehood. In On Diversity, he tackles some of the core pieties of our time, and drives home a central paradox, that the shibboleth of diversity cloaks a world of increasingly soulless uniformity. Immensely learned yet unfailingly lucid, Jacoby will make you think harder than you ever have about things you thought you knew.”

RUSSELL JACOBY has written essays, op-eds and book reviews for newspapers and magazines from Los Angeles Times to The New Republic and Harper's. The topics of his books range from the place of psychology in American society (Social Amnesia: A Critique of Conformist Psychology) to the role of utopian thought (The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in the Age of Apathy) and the origins of violence (Bloodlust: On the Roots of Violence from Cain and Abel to the Present). His book The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe introduced a term that has been picked up everywhere—"public intellectual"—and is considered an essential text in American letters. His books have been translated into a dozen languages. Originally from New York, he has a Ph.D. in history from the University of Rochester, where he worked with Christopher Lasch, and is the author of On Diversity: The Eclipse of the Individual in a Global Era. He lives in Los Angeles and teaches history at UCLA. In 2017 Jacoby was short-listed for the Times Literary Supplement's All Authors Must Have Prizes Prize.