My annual Theory Camp has begun. This year we are studying two books by Michael Sandel. This week we will work through Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy.
Sandel says America was built on a republican tradition that understood freedom to mean the ability to participate in governing a democratic society. However, as America grew and became more diverse, we lost a sense of common values that we wanted all citizens to share. Since the Second World War, therefore, we developed a new public philosophy, "procedural liberalism," which taught that freedom was the right to do what we wanted, free from participating in democratic governance. We avoid conflict over different moral and religious views by bracketing them out of state action.
Sandel says the problem with this merely procedural view is that it is too thin to make citizenship out of. When politics brackets out morals it breeds disenchantment.
Sociology normally sees disenchantment as a religious problem. Sandel rightly sees that when we keep moral and religious meaning out of political life, we disenchant more than just the state. We sap the sense of meaning out of public life as a whole.