Reply to Critics

Michael J. Sandel

in Debating Democracy's Discontent

Published in print October 1998 | ISBN: 9780198294962
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598708 | DOI:
 Reply to Critics

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There are reasons to doubt that the civic aspirations of the republican tradition will be realized in our time, but there are equally compelling reasons to reject the alternative: a public life that gives up on the project of freedom as self-government, that abandons the aim of calling economic power to democratic account, that fails to form in citizens the qualities of character that equip them for self-rule. Of the two versions of republicanism–the modest, instrumental one and the strong, intrinsic, Aristotelian one–the second seems most persuasive. Unless citizens have reason to believe that sharing in self-government is intrinsically important, their willingness to sacrifice individual interests for the common good may be eroded by instrumental calculations about the costs and benefits of political participation. The republican tradition has long considered an excessive preoccupation with consumption a moral and civic vice, inimical to self-government; from the standpoint of procedural liberalism, what matters is fair access to the fruits of consumption. Since imagining ways of reorganizing the relation between family and work so that the distinctive goods of each are accorded the social recognition and prestige they deserve requires explicit social choices about the place of family and work in a good life, it is unlikely to be advanced within the terms of procedural liberalism. The best response to the intolerance that fuels the culture wars is not to deconstruct the identities of the combatants but to challenge the economic forces and cultural tendencies that enervate citizenship and erode the dispositions that equip us for self-rule.

Keywords: Aristotelian; citizenship; consumption; economic; family; identities; instrumental; intolerance; intrinsic; realized

Chapter.  8159 words. 

Subjects: Political Theory

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