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Nonfiction in Brief

AN AGENDA FOR THE 21ST CENTURY by Rushworth M. Kidder (The MIT Press: $16.95)

January 10, 1988|Alex Raksin

The agenda is that of the Christian Science Monitor, which came up with the idea for this book, even though the paper would have us believe that it represents the consensus of the world's leading thinkers. Even so, the Monitor's vision is so appealing that we can be thankful for the book's bias. Rushworth Kidder, who reports on trends for the Monitor, fires off pragmatic questions while still seeking an "appraisal of the future not so encumbered by present limitations that it lacks vision." His line of inquiry eschews prejudice and scapegoating, striving "to injure no man but to bless all mankind" (the goal of the Monitor's founder, Mary Baker Eddy). One might wonder whether there is a point to conversing with the converted. But by finding a broad range of agreement among a disparate group of leaders--presidents of West Germany, Nigeria and the United States, historians from Japan's Shuichi Kato to England's Paul Johnson, literati from Mexico's Carlos Fuentes to the Soviet Union's Andrei Voznesensky--Kidder has acted as author-diplomat, proving that a rational world agenda can exist even though it is currently shrouded by political posturing.

Problems discussed range from nuclear war (the danger is more from small nations driven to desperation than from calculations by superpowers) to the growing gap between First and Third World economies. Kidder's affiliation with the Monitor does lead to some delicate wording about some issues, such as overpopulation: "In part the Catholic Church as an organization still could do more to help solve these problems," Kidder writes.

But the religious affiliation is largely a blessing, for it broadens the debate to include a much-needed, intelligent discussion of "public and private morality." Kidder's interviews reaffirm the need for some Judeo-Christian values in our secular age, such as "public truth-telling" and a spirit of interdependence, while eschewing the divisive, intolerant views of the Moral Majority.

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