Fri, 28 October 2016
“Our public life is rife with discontent.” So claims political philosopher Michael Sandel, in his 1996 book Democracy’s Discontent: American in Search of a Public Philosophy. Sandel identifies two prominent symptoms of that discontent. “One is the fear that, individually and collectively, we are losing control of the forces that govern our lives. The other is the sense that, from family to neighborhood to nation, the moral fabric of community is unraveling around us.”
Sandel’s book examines the ideas of liberty that have spawned what he calls “unencumbered selves,” atomistic individuals with no abiding sense of responsibility, duty, or binding attachments. The political mechanism that encourages this care-free sensibility is what Sandel calls the “procedural republic,” the product of a view of the state that envisions government as a guarantor of rights and fairness, scrupulously indifferent to questions of truth or goodness. This issue of Audition includes excerpts from a 1996 interview with Sandel in which he outlines a public philosophy committed to promoting civic virtue.
Also featured here is a 2009 interview with philosopher Scott Moore, author of The Limits of Liberal Democracy: Politics and Religion at the End of Modernity. In his book, Moore argues that the Enlightenment views of reason and human autonomy are unsustainable, and that much of our contemporary confusion about political, social, and cultural matters is a symptom of the unraveling of those views. He says that the invention of our democratic institutions was motivated by a desire to accommodate and encourage “the autonomy of the individual and the expansion of personal liberty,” and he asks whether such institutions and their founding assumptions haven’t subtly captured the highest allegiances of many Christians, transforming what we believe about what counts as happiness and success. He asserts that “in a world with fewer and fewer Christians, democratic faith makes ever more exclusive demands.”
To follow up that 2009 interview, Ken Myers phoned Moore to ask him about his views on the political moment that has resulted in the 2016 presidential campaign, and the kinds of questions about political responsibility that aren’t being asked very loudly right now.