The Body Politic


208 pages

Trade Paper

List Price US $18.95
ISBN: 9781934137383


ISBN: 9781934137468

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“An impassioned defense of scientific study . . . an essential dose of logic.”


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“Regardless of who ends up occupying the White House in January 2013, one hopes that a few hours will have been set aside on the campaign trail to engage with this important book.”

Times Higher Education

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“A timely take on the debate raging over biotechnology breakthroughs . . . Moreno shows how developments in biotechnology have affected people across the ideological spectrum. . . . conservatives concerned about abortion, neoconservatives worried about threats to human dignity and liberals fretting that new biotechnologies will exacerbate existing economic inequality.”


“The most penetrating characterization and analysis of the shrill political battles fought over the use of our new biotechnologies (and the battles to come).”

American Journal of Bioethics (AJOB)

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“Human cloning. Synthetic biology. Mood (and mind) altering drugs. Personalized medicine . . . The human future may be very different from the human past as these changes are negotiated and assimilated. And so may human politics. To help us prepare for this radical future is Jonathan Moreno, author of the new book The Body Politic: The Battle Over Science in America, which underscores the strange bedfellow allegiances that may occur in what has been called our ‘biological century’.”

Point of Inquiry

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“Scholarly, sophisticated and compelling . . . If only more of our contemporary political battles were as careful, as cogent and as well grounded as The Body Politic, I’d be more confident that the unprecedented decisions being forced upon society by revolutionary advances in biology would most wisely and effectively be made.”

Washington Independent Review of Books

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“Erudite and sophisticated . . . provide[s] a historical and philosophical framework to enrich present bioethical debates.”

Real Change

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“Moreno pulls apart the debates on eugenics, abortion, end-of-life decisions, embryonic stem-cell research, reproductive cloning, chimeras, and synthetic biology, among others, carefully reassembling what’s at stake for each side. In graceful, sparkling prose, he illuminates intricate threads of history and complex philosophical arguments. . . . Highly recommended for anyone interested in the[se] vital issues.”

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

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“An important analysis of the societal currents swirling around volatile scientific issues . . . Moreno delivers a powerful defense of science [and] respects his readers’ intelligence in this nuanced and thoughtful book.”

Publishers Weekly

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“Moreno shows how biological discoveries aggravate cultural tensions, challenge our political system and values, and stimulate debate about the place of science and scientists in America. . . . Sophisticated, useful, and well-written.”

Library Journal

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“A concise but nuanced account of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment debates about the role of science in American life.”


“Historians will agree that ‘progress’ is as American as apple pie. What constitutes progress, of course, is always a point of contention. In The Body Politic, Jonathan D. Moreno examines the attitudes Americans hold about modern science’s treatment of the human body. . . . Throughout the discussion, it’s clear he has his thumb on the cultural and historical contexts in which these issues have arisen [and] Moreno explains that people on both sides of the aisle are expressing concern for unrestricted use of bioscience for different reasons . . . an excellent addition to any syllabus.”

ForeWord Reviews

“A solid addition to any politics collections.”

Midwest Book Review (reviewer’s choice)

“Moreno shrewdly tracks the history of science in American politics from Thomas Jefferson to today’s science culture wars. He explains how science and discovery have been central to our vision for the country, but often fueled a significant counter reaction. A must read for anyone who wants to understand science policy today.”

John Podesta, former White House Chief of Staff and President and CEO of the Center for American Progress

“Since the beginning of our quest to win the Indianapolis 500 our family has believed in the power of technology. The only limits to that technology have been human ones. The Body Politic reminds us that in biology as well as engineering, America will always need that pioneer spirit.”

Al Unser, Sr., Al Unser, Jr., Bobby Unser, Sr., Indianapolis 500 Champions

“A new wave of issues is coming at us—genetic testing, brain scans, synthetic biology, consumer eugenics—and radically challenging our notions of left and right. Jonathan D. Moreno has written a clear-eyed map of the emerging biopolitics—greens, transhumanists, bioconservatives, technoprogressives—and a thoughtful defense of inquiry, innovation, and the liberating power of science.”

William Saletan, author of Bearing Right: How Conservatives Won the Abortion War and Slate National Correspondent

“This groundbreaking must-read book situates the biological revolution in its historical, philosophical and cultural context and, with almost breathtaking elegance, shows how society may come to define itself by the body politic.”

Nita A. Farahany, Associate Professor of Law & Associate Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University; Member, Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues

The Body Politic is a penetrating and uncommonly fair-minded analysis of how science is construed, nourished, and antagonized across the rainbow of American thought and belief. Highly recommended for all those who would base their political opinions on facts, rather than on other people’s opinions.”

Timothy Ferris, journalist, PBS filmmaker and author of The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

“Provides a fascinating, timely exploration of one of our era’s most momentous issues, the applications—and misapplications—of biomedical research.”

John Horgan, author of Rational Mysticism and Director, Center for Science Writings, Stevens Institute of Technology

“Moreno clarifies major points of science-society tension over the last half century and brings a sharp eye to the societal context confronting future advances and their applications.”

Alan I. Leshner, Ph.D., American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) CEO and Science Executive Publisher

The Body Politic reminds us that science occurs within a complex context that exerts powerful forces upon scientists, public officials, advocacy groups, and patients. Moreno has written the kind of book that needed to be written, combining detailed research, enlightened analysis, and an important message, all wrapped in accessible text.”

Eric M. Meslin, Ph.D., Director, Indiana University Center for Bioethics

“A beautiful book.”

Jay Schulkin, Ph.D., Research Professor, Department of Neuroscience, Georgetown University

The Body Politic is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the history of American political thought about science, the dynamics of current controversies such as the stem cell debate, and the battle between those who see science as the route to a better future and those who see within the science the potential for a loss of our sense of human distinctiveness and dignity.”

Paul Wolpe, Ph.D., Director, Center for Ethics, Emory University and Chief of Bioethics for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

In her foreword to Science Next, Elizabeth Edwards wrote of science as a tool for social progress: “Innovation is not simply the abstract victory of knowledge [or] the research that gave me years to live; the next science can advance human flourishing and serve the common good. That’s the kind of world I want to leave for my children, and for yours.” With these words, she joined a tradition that goes back to America’s founders, who saw America itself as a “great experiment.”

Yet while no one can deny that science undergirds the American Dream, it has long been fertile terrain for the “culture wars.” Along with arguing the pros and cons of abortion and healthcare, policymakers must now grapple with advancements that raise questions about what it means to be human: we’ve decoded the genome, but should we modify it to enhance certain “desirable” traits? If we can, should we prolong life at any cost? Will we soon be counting robots, cyborgs, and chimeras among our friends and family?

The first book to unpack our love/hate relationship with science from our country’s origins to today, The Body Politic is essential reading for science buffs and concerned citizens alike.

Kirkus Reviews “Best Book of the Year” selection

Atlantic “Reference Desk” recommendation

Excerpt from The Body Politic

The Founders as Scientists

One can draw a line of descent from Isaac Newton, the greatest scientist of his day, to Benjamin Franklin, the greatest scientist of his. By carefully observing and mathematically calculating the effects of gravity, Newton showed that one could predict the motions of the heavenly bodies. Reading Principia, John Locke was struck that generations of philosophers had been so preoccupied with their own comprehensive metaphysical systems that they failed to be open to the lessons of experience. Similarly, it seemed to Locke that abstract and interminable arguments about such “problems” as whether human beings are naturally free lead political philosophy down a blind alley. The point is rather that people are at liberty to do what they decide to do and that government should focus on conduct. The people, too, should respect state sovereignty only insofar as the actions of the state redound to the protection of their rights, a social contract.

Locke appreciated that Newton’s scientific approach gave the lie to the notion that one had to be a philosopher or priest or king to know the nature of things. Rather, political liberalism is founded on the fact that sovereign authority has at most an incidental relationship to the truth, that insight into the nature of things is independent of power or social status. Enlightenment epistemology values a worldview’s correspondence with reality, proven through demonstration, rather than its internal coherence alone; while the latter is considered a logical requirement and an aesthetic virtue, in itself coherence is not a criterion of knowledge. Ancient cosmologists went to great lengths to ensure the internal coherence of their Earth-centered universe, but elegance is not enough. Even the presumptive axiomatic statements that are the lawlike generalizations at the core of a system of statements about the world are themselves subject to disconfirmation by experiment.

Thomas Jefferson was famously preoccupied with both astronomy through Newton and political liberalism via Locke. Mathematical reason and empirical observation were not to be set off against each other as in pre-Newtonian philosophy, but viewed as complementary and, so much as possible given the limits of contemporary knowledge and opportunities for experiment, integrated. Thus, the pragmatic and progressive strains in American thought and Americans’ self-understanding reach back to the founders and to their inspiration in Enlightenment figures like Locke and John Stuart Mill. The revolutionary generation largely accepted the Enlightenment’s confidence in progress, the idea that through empirically-based administration of public affairs (known today as the policy process) it was possible to improve the human condition. In principle, these improvements were limitless. Yet the founders’ experience with unreasonable established authority in matters of taxation and personal religious conviction led them to construct a system in which state authority was constrained: the famous “checks and balances” of the three branches of government.

The founders reached a consensus on a republican form of government that was finally buttressed by not a democracy per se, but a constitution. An underlying motive for this cautious attitude toward democracy was anxiety about the fragility of social arrangements, of civilized mores. The dislocations associated with technological developments have long been a source of concern among social conservatives, as have any sudden eruptions in the political fabric. The father of Anglo-American conservatism, Edmund Burke, was famously and quite rightly alarmed by the chaos, criminality and corruption unleashed by the French Revolution; his visceral response was to invoke fealty to tradition. “The very idea of the fabrication of a new government,” Burke wrote, “is enough to fill us with disgust and horror. We wished at the period of the Revolution, and do now wish, to derive all we possess as an inheritance from our forefathers.” Shocked by the betrayals and violence of the Terror, Burke was by contrast a brave and often lonely supporter of the American rebellion, perhaps because the colonial governments were not “new” but longstanding, finally becoming irreparably alienated from a distant monarchy while still retaining English roots.

In sustaining a delicate balance of idealism and realism about human affairs the American founders adopted an attitude we might today call ironic but might be better called fallibilism. This term was used by an American philosopher a century after the revolutionary period to describe his philosophy of science: all statements about the world may be proven wrong, which anticipated the later positivist view that all empirical statements must be falsifiable. The founders were only too well-aware that events could surely have falsified their theory that popular self-government is possible. It was thus perspicuous of Jefferson to describe their project as the American experiment. As a man of science, he well knew that he and his colleagues could be wrong.

The founders’ ironic, fallibilist vision of human beings and human society therefore led them to favor a popular government but one that was constrained by certain constitutional arrangements. Their version of an Enlightenment governing philosophy deserves to be thought of as pragmatic in two senses: first, that it would be put to the test in experience, and second, in their view of human nature as improvable but inevitably flawed. The latter sense of the founders’ pragmatism led them to favor careful limits on state power. Key members of the revolutionary leadership were pragmatic experimentalists who were in a position to glimpse the coming emergence of the modern idea of science and the way that a nation could exploit the growth of knowledge. Jefferson provided perhaps the most obvious and, over the long term, concretely influential example with his authorship of the patent statute “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” which set about to provide incentives for inventors that largely remain in place and are still exceptionally generous. Jefferson saw intellectual property as providing both a magnet for creative individuals and a source of improvements for the common good.

We have recently come to know Jefferson as more flawed, complex and interesting person than his former misty image as the sage of Monticello. Not debatable is his intellectual brilliance. While Secretary of State, Jefferson personally reviewed each one of the first set of patent applications, later confessing his insecurity as an examiner ill-prepared to take on fields that were already showing signs of specialization. His preoccupation with the design of immensely clever gadgets was a traditional technologist’s approach uninformed by theory. One senses in Jefferson a deep curiosity about underlying processes that were invisible to him, but the time was not yet fully ripe for applied science. Similarly, Benjamin Franklin’s interest in electricity and metallurgy manifested themselves in his invention of lightning rods and circulating stoves. To say that Franklin was obsessed with the value of experiment and observation is no exaggeration, even conducting experiments on temperature and atmosphere during his frequent perilous ambassadorial voyages across the Atlantic….

Jonathan Moreno talks to Salon, answers “9 ½ Questions” at The Atlantic, and delves into the intersection between bioethics and politics on Point of Inquiry

Jonathan D. Moreno discusses biopreparedness on FOX News and pens an op-ed with Senator Tom Daschle on the 10th anniversary of the anthrax attacks at Politico.

Listen to an interview with the author on WHYY’s Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane and on KUOW’s Weekday.