Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sandel 3: Employees Are Also Free Citizens

Michael Sandel, in Democracy's Discontent, reviews the argument among the Founding Fathers over political economy. The New Englanders wanted to develop American manufacturing and merchant capacity. The Virginians wanted farmers, and feared cities. Both thought that free, democratic citizens needed to stand on their own feet economically.

Both classes of Founders were imagining the owners of these enterprises as the true citizens. The irony is that factories and stores depend on employees, and the farms that the Virginians actually ran depended on slaves, as well as employed farm hands. Employees were not seen as truly free; they were like slaves because they depended on another to live.

When slavery was abolished, and the great mass of Americans became employees, this eighteenth century argument became totally outdated. Yet we have not really resolved the question of what economic assets you need to be a free participating citizen.

Instead, Sandel usefully points out, we have redefined freedom from participating in government to choosing how to live. In other words, we have re-imagined freedom from a kind of production to a kind of consumption.

2 comments:

Pastor Dennis said...

I have thought a lot about the American Revolution and find that Sandel, from your synopsis, really sums up the change well. In spite of differing "denominational membership" there was broad consensus on how to live, or on what it meant to be a responsible person who participated in the community and society.

ceemac said...

Last week you had a post about the role of schools in a good society.

It's been a while since i read in this area but at least in New England wasn't the public school movement circa 1830's and 40's about forming children with the virtues required of free citizens.

To be more blunt what they wanted was to take the children of Irish and Central European Catholics and replace Catholic superstitions with rational Protestant virtues.