12 Questions with Michael Sandel

Jonathan Bruno and Jason Swadley in The Art of Theory:

Art of Theory: What features of our political life most puzzle you?

Michael-sandel Sandel: I would say the largely arid terms of political discourse, the thinness of public discourse in the world’s leading democracies. That’s the single most striking and worrisome thing.

It’s partly the tendency, over the past three decades, of economics to crowd out politics. This has been an age of market triumphalism. We’ve come to the assumption that markets are the primary instruments for achieving the public good. I think that is a mistaken notion and people are now beginning to question that.

It also has led to political discourse being preoccupied with technocratic, managerial, economic concerns. The broader public questions and ethical questions have been crowded to the side.

I think that this has been reinforced by a certain idea of toleration, a well-intentioned idea of toleration that says, “Given the disagreements we have on moral and spiritual questions, we should try to conduct our political debate without reference to them.” I think that’s also contributed to an emptying out of substantive moral discourse in politics, an emptiness people are eager to fill.

Such emptiness often provokes a backlash, so that narrow, intolerant and sometimes fundamentalist voices fill that void and have a persuasive force they wouldn’t otherwise have, if public discourse included open and direct engagement with rival moral views and moral conceptions.

More here.