My Online Prose Portfolio

"Write out of love, write out of instinct, write out of reason. But always for money."
Louis Untermeyer


By Stephen L. Carter
HarperPerennial, 277 pp, 1996

What I most enjoy about Stephen Carter is his ability to write plainly yet persuasively. That's amazing because he's a bona fide intellectual - a law professor - and most of the intellectual types I've read are horrible writers. But not Carter, God bless him.

I've read his first book, Reflections of an Affirmative Action Baby, and I liked it, though I certainly did not agree with all his points. But I learned quite a bit, and enjoyed his insights. He tries his best to be evenhanded, more so than many intellectual writers (the few that write coherent sentences, at least).

Anyway, Integrity is a fine book. Carter examines the concept, explores why it's so popular in American though not always widely practiced, and even defines it. His definition requires three steps:

  1. "A difficult process of discerning one's deepest understanding of right and wrong." This is first, and perhaps most important. The integral individual must constantly re-examine his motives and question his beliefs, and then make up his mind that they are just and true.
  2. Act on what he discerns to be true. Do you believe the nation needs campaign finance reform? Then do something about it. Repeal gun control laws? Do something. Outlaw abortion? Do something. Get involved. Fight.
  3. "The person truly living an integral life must be willing to say that he or she is acting consistently with what he or she has decided is right." No lying, no dissembling, no spinning. The integral person must be honest and forthright about why he is doing what he is doing.

Those are Carter's three steps toward integrity. Fairly challenging. Do you meet them? Do I?

But how does this apply to real life? Carter uses this basis to examine certain elements of American society - sports, the media, politics - and determines if the institutions and people in them act with integrity.

It's quite fun, and a good book. It's also refreshing, because Carter obviously believes in right and wrong, not some wishy-washy moral relativism that says if it feels good, it must be right.

I recommend the book, and watch for more Stephen Carter on this site.

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