Articles and Essays by Mark Engler

    Soul of a Citizen: A Review

    Paul Rogat Loeb’s well-regarded 1999 book on activism is out in a revised and updated edition.

    “We often hesitate to get involved in our communities,” writes author and veteran activist Paul Rogat Loeb. “We’re too busy, we say. It’s hard to imagine how we might make room for more public commitments.” Yet by addressing this very reluctance—speaking to those who feel they should be more engaged in political life but have hesitated to take the plunge—Loeb’s Soul of a Citizen, first published in 1999, has found a large and devoted audience. Loeb has now revised and updated the book, with new reflections on the Obama campaign and the challenges of climate change. His wager is that hearing the stories of what motivated others to finally act will make us more likely to do so ourselves. One environmentalist, who was deeply moved learning about Alaskan wolves being hunted from helicopters, asks, “What difference could the shooting of a few Alaskan wolves possibly make in my life?” Still, he says, “I tell the story anyway,” because the true sense of loss that he initially felt inspired him to push the boundaries of his compassion. Relating such incidents, Loeb is willing to risk the occasional cliché (“No one political group or viewpoint has a corner on idealism”) to get at some kernels that are as genuinely wise as they are sentimental. “The more we tell and retell stories about our commitments,” he writes, “the more we can strengthen our hope.”

    Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in Challenging Times
    By Paul Rogat Loeb
    St. Martin’s Griffin, 381 pages, $16.99

    — Mark Engler is a writer based in Philadelphia, an editorial board member at Dissent, and co-author of "This Is An Uprising: How Nonviolent Revolt Is Shaping the Twenty-first Century" (Nation Books). He can be reached via the website