Republican Nostalgia

Republican Nostalgia

democracy’s Discontent
by Michael Sandel
Harvard University Press, 1996. 417 pp. $24.95.

Much of what follows will be rather critical of Michael Sandel’s new book. It would be particularly wicked therefore not to begin by praising some of its many virtues. At a time when many critics of liberalism paint liberals as fools or knaves, Sandel writes with perfect courtesy—and is all the more persuasive in consequence. At a time when the discussion of politics is either focused on the partisan debates of this week and next or else vitiated by an Olympian detachment from the politics of any particular time and place, Democracy’s Discontent is pitched at just the right level. That is, its focus is on our present discontents, but it sets them in an account of the constitutional and economic history of the United States, and it draws its philosophical and political morals from that history. It is neither a party-political manifesto nor an exercise in arid conceptual analysis, but an exercise in social and political criticism aimed squarely at late twentieth-century citizens of the United States.

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