Friday, 6 November 2009

Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?

Michael J Sandel, the Harvard lecturer who delivered this year's BBC Reith Lectures on morality and markets, writes in his new book "Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?"

"Life in democratic societies is rife with disagreement about right and wrong, justice and injustice... Given the passion and intensity with which we debate moral questions in public life, we might be tempted to think that our moral convictions are fixed once and for all, by upbringing or faith, beyond the reach of reason. But if this were true, moral persuasion would be inconceivable, and what we take to be public debate about justice and rights would be nothing more than a volley of dogmatic assertions, an ideological food fight. At its worst, our politics comes close to this condition. But it need not be this way. Sometimes, an argument can change our minds."

He wrote in the Guardian (31/10/09),

"I think our public life would go better if we engaged more directly with the moral ideals underlying our political debates. In many ways, political argument today is morally impoverished. My book tries to bring philosophy to bear on the dilemmas we confront in contemporary politics - not in the expectation of consensus and agreement, but rather in the hope of contributing to a richer, more morally robust democratic deliberation."

According to the Guardian "Sandel maintains that he is no majoritarian: a more engaged citizenry, he argues, would actually provide a far stronger check on abuses of power, or on over powerful religious organisations." He criticises politics as "morally neutral".

It seems to me that Interactive Democracy engages the citizenry, empowers leaders to state their moral argument and has every chance of enhancing democratic deliberation. I wonder if Sandel would concur?

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