Michael Sandel and Richard Rorty: Two Models of the Republic

Richard Sennett

in Debating Democracy's Discontent

Published in print October 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294962
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598708 | DOI:
 Michael Sandel and Richard Rorty: Two Models of the Republic

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Sandel earns his theory by history: the last two-thirds of Democracy’s Discontent, called “The Political Economy of Citizenship,” explores with great historical acumen just how liberalism and republicanism have become manifest in the real world of labor, class, and capitalist development. At each stage of capitalism’s development, the concepts of the liberal, “procedural” republic proved better at rationalizing economic growth. The modern economy is, we know, uprooting large numbers of people who now labor at short-term tasks rather than pursue long-term careers; it’s hard to be loyal to corporations which do not practice loyalty in return, harder to take seriously the current hand-wringing about corporate responsibility on the part of institutions compulsively oriented to their quarterly earnings reports. Words like “duty” and “loyalty” do contain in themselves a coercive undertow, and it is that current in Sandel’s thinking which his most serious critics, such as Richard Rorty, have contested. Sandel sees civil society culminating in political action–or thinks it should move in that direction if we are to do battle with an ever more corrosive capitalism; for Rorty, civil society, whether strong or weak, ironic or blind, stands beyond the reach of politics, and the “network of beliefs and desires” that he calls the self is too complicated a map to have a single destination.

Keywords: capitalism; coercive; duty; economy; history; loyalty; real; Richard Rorty

Chapter.  2653 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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