Democracy in America Revisited—Toward a New Definition of the Public Good [Eighth and Last of a Series]


As we reached the end of our eight-hour, one-day Socrates Society Salon in San Francisco, Professor Michael Sandel pulled together many of the threads that we had discussed on the future of American Democracy. To paraphrase his concluding comments:

Liberalism in America has experienced a failure to give a convincing account of the public good or the common good. When inequality becomes as pronounced as it is today, the wealthy buy their way out of public places and exist in their own world—which is a very bad thing. Public services and public places increasingly come to be seen as a place for the poor– witness the multi-year secular trends in American public schools, in public transportation (think NetJets), and in health care (think Concierge Medicine for those who can afford it).

You need to have people of widely ranging socio-economic backgrounds bumping into each other in civic proximity to have some meaningful deliberation about the public good.

There is a civic reason to worry about forms of inequality that lead to separate lives between the Haves and the Have Nots. This leads to the Meaning Deficit in America today. One reason why there is so much fraying of the social fabric in America in the early 21st century is because we don’t know what it means to be an American anymore—we don’t know what we belong to that matters to all of us as Americans…

We need to constitute a shared public realm so that people can at least argue about what is the public good.

Makes you think, doesn’t it?

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