Instead of considering society as a social environment, Society in the Self begins from the assumption that society works in the deepest regions of self and identity, as expressed in phenomena like self-sabotage, self-radicalization, self-cure, self-government, self-nationalization, and self-internationalization. This leads to the central thesis that a democratic society can only function properly if it is populated by participants with a democratically organized self. In this book, an integrative model is presented that is inspired by three versions of democracy: cosmopolitan, deliberative, and agonistic democracy, with the latter focusing on the role of social power and emotions.
Drawing on these democratic views, three levels of inclusiveness are distinguished in the self: personal (I as an individual), social (I as a member of a group), and global (I as a human being). A democratic self requires the flexibility of moving up and down across these levels of inclusiveness and has to find its way in fields of tension between the self and the other, and between dialogue and social power. As author Hubert Hermans explains, this theory has far reaching consequences for such divergent topics as leadership in the self, cultural diversity in the self, the relationship between reason and emotion, self-empathy, cooperation and competition between self-parts, and the role of social power in prejudice, enemy image construction, and scapegoating.
The central message of this book is reflected in Mahatma Gandhi's dictum: "Be the change you want to see in the world."