Public Philosophy

“Michael Sandel…believes that liberal appeals to individual rights and to the broad values of fairness and equality make a poor case for the progressive case, both as a matter of strategy and as a matter of principle. The country and the Democratic party would be better off, he thinks, if progressives made more of an effort to inspire the majority to adopt their vision of the common good and make it the democratic ground for public policy and law… Anyone concerned over the political success of conservatism in recent years must be interested in this critical analysis.”Thomas Nagel, The New York Review of Books


“Two messages for progressives sear like bullets through Sandel’s collection of essays.  Firstly,…inevitable disagreement about the nature of the good society calls for progressives to engage with controversial moral questions—not to try to avoid them…. Secondly, by seeking to justify egalitarianism in individualistic, rights-based terms, Rawlsian liberals neglect cultivating the citizenship, solidarity and community on which liberty and equality depend…. In recapturing a moral voice for the liberal-left, it is Sandel who seems to offer a more persuasive way forward.” – Graeme Cook, Public Policy Research

Democracy’s discontent

“Michael Sandel… has written an important book about the meaning of liberty. Sandel argues that over the last century, Americans have abandoned an earlier communitarian view of liberty, rooted in participation in self-government, for a narrower, individualistic definition, based on the power of personal choice. That has led to the great paradox of American politics: Just as Americans have become freer in the conduct of their personal lives, they have become more constrained in their public lives. The strength of Sandel’s book is his account of how this definition of liberty has changed over the last 200 years. He argues persuasively that the new definition reinforces undesirable trends in court decisions and public policy… Sandel argues brilliantly that the change in this definition of liberty took place after the Civil War and was based primarily on economic change… His analysis is superb… By revealing the shallowness of liberal and conservative views of democracy, [this book] inspires us to reevaluate what American politics is really about.”—John B. Judis, Washington Post Book World

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