American debating democracys discontent essay law philosophy politics public

Sandel argues that liberal neutrality is overwhelmingly dominant today, and he urges a return to a more Aristotelian, republican politics; both positions are controverted here. Under republicanism, government, acting on the premise that self-government is intrinsically good, would take on the challenge of inculcating the virtues of character necessary for effective citizenship. Republicanism, as well as liberalism, has special dangers for women, though heterosexual women might benefit from a republican discourse on homosexual marriage. The traditional civic virtues may not be those most appropriate to the contemporary United States; liberalism may be able to justify the promotion of virtues appropriate to our times, and a new civic pluralism may be more desirable than a more traditional republicanism.

American debating democracys discontent essay law philosophy politics public

Moreover, the identities we come to have are in large measure shaped by our social ties. If we tell the wrong story about ourselves, we cannot find the proper means to diagnose the problems we share or to come to rectify those problems.

It seems to me that Michael Sandel's attempt to come to an understanding of some of America's modern malaises in Democracy's Discontent relies in some part on telling the wrong story of America's competing visions and the way these visions evolved. I will take some of these points in turn and will acknowledge that some of the points might be controversial.


In any case, they are my own views. Classical Liberalism as it was expressed by Kant and Mill, and for that matter John Locke and Wilhelm von Humboldt to name other notablesaverred that no person or institution ought to occupy a position of authority over others unless that authority could be justified.

American debating democracys discontent essay law philosophy politics public

In other words, Classical Liberalism is a commitment to a principle concerned with the illegitimate use of political power in the broadest sense, suspicious even of power in personal affairs.

The conception I have given above of Classical Liberalism clarifies, I think, some of its seemingly paradoxical aspects when we have to give it expression. Locke, for example, could accept that parents can be authorities over their children to the extent that children need guidance in their formative years.

So too members of Congress in the United States could vote to adopt a more progressive tax system on the charge that progressive taxation constitutes a legitimate use of political power and far from infringing upon people's freedoms can expand them and in turn improve the quality of life for most of the citizens.

While the endpoint of the Classical Liberal vision would be to remove as many institutions representing political power as humanly possible, the short-term goals might be to expand them as a means to improve the wellbeing of its citizens.

There is nothing really contradictory in the two positions since it is believed that the expansion of some political power to improve wellbeing and protect and enshrine human goods is a legitimate use of that power.

On Sandel's conception, there are two rival conceptions: As stated earlier, liberalism for Sandel is neutrality toward conceptions of the good life. It is perfectly consistent with this view that citizens of a country, say, believe in the principle and also take part and deliberate about the proper use of existing power toward legitimate ends, including the common good.

This restated quibble of mine is important because whenever Sandel writes of constitutional law, he writes as though the debate about interpreting constitutional law and perhaps law in general has to do with the competing visions of liberalism and republicanism in American society.

Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy. - Free Online Library

Just to give one sort of example Sandel is interested in, he writes of a judicial ruling about a city-sponsored nativity scene around Christmas time. The question to the court was whether the city's sponsorship of the display constituted the endorsement of a particular religion.

American debating democracys discontent essay law philosophy politics public

Surely, this is a misuse of a sacred symbol. I will not get into the details about this case or others but again the reason, it seems to me, that Sandel does not appeal to what the law says is that he conceives of this and like cases as representing a battle between liberalism and republicanism, between those favoring neutrality toward public goods who do not wish to take a stand and those who would uphold some goods and argue for them.

Again, I think this is a false picture. What the interpretation of constitutional law, and the interpretation of law in general, is about is whether judges should take conservative or activist stances toward the law itself in making their decisions. To give more flesh to what I mean here, consider two heroes of each of these stances.

In other words, if a judge or jury's court decision is not based on what the law texts actually say, I don't see how that judge or jury could provide a coherent account of the basis upon which they would make the decision. Whether you agree with me or not that judicial conservatism is more advisable, what is at issue here is not, contrary to what Sandel writes, liberalism and republicanism but judicial conservatism and judicial activism regarding the interpretation of law.

This will diverge too far, but it seems to me that if the judges and the people do not like the laws that they have to enact, that is more a reflection of the failure of the legislature than anything else—well, that, and perhaps a failure of citizens to get the kinds of legislators and legislations they want.

Liberalism, which is, again according to Sandel, people pursuing their own ends and governments being neutral toward particular ends, eventually found a new form in economics, where the citizen choosing his or her own ends translated into consumers choosing what goods they value.

And people stopped thinking about markets as effective tools to transfer goods and services but as society at large allowing for the transfer of any good or any service, no matter what it may be.Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy / Edition 1 The defect, Sandel maintains, lies in the impoverished vision of citizenship and community shared by Democrats and Republicans $ Books Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights with Sue Donaldson, Oxford University Press, Debating Democracy's Discontent: Essays on American Politics, Law, and Public Philosophy(Oxford University Press, ), pp.

Get this from a library! Debating democracy's discontent: essays on American politics, law, and public philosophy. [Anita L Allen; Milton C Regan;] -- Here, leading political and legal theorists debate Michael Sandel's thesis Democracy's Discontent.

It is a wide-ranging discussion spanning constitutional law, culture, and political economy. According to American political scientist Larry Diamond, during which the idea of a political party took form with groups debating rights to political representation during the Putney Debates of Subsequently, the Protectorate Presidential Democracy is a system where the public elects the president through free and fair elections.

In recent years, there has been tremendous growth of interest in the connections between law and philosophy, but the diversity of approaches that claim to be working at the intersection of these disciplines might suggest that this area of inquiry is so fractured as to be incoherent.

Debating Democracy's Discontent: Essays on American Politics, Law, and Public Philosophy and a great selection of similar Used, New and Collectible Books available now at

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