Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sandel 8: Fear is the Basis of the Neutral State

Michael Sandel, in Justice, contrasts Aristotle's view that the end of politics is to form good citizens, with the modern idea that the state should be neutral about which ends citizens choose to seek.

In Democracy's Discontent, Sandel showed that when American democracy was established, the state was more Aristotelian than neutral. In fact, the ancient philosophers thought democracy would be a terrible form of government, because most people could not be formed into decent enough citizens to use their democratic powers rightly. The founders of the American republic knew that, and deliberately created institutions to form Americans into worthy democratic citizens. The idea that the state should not try to form citizens, but just provide a neutral framework for their self-seeking, is a recent idea. The jury is still out on whether it can work.

I have been trying to imagine who benefits from the idea of the neutral state. The arguments for it usually rely on the fears of minorities that they will forced to conform to the majority's ends.

I think fear is an impossible basis for a stable society. If American democracy is to endure, it has to renew trust that the state, along with the other institutions of society, can rightly help form citizens toward a common understanding of the good.

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