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Democracy's Discontent by Michael J. Sandel

- Abstract

One should not confuse the rapidly changing fortunes of the political battlefield with the slow, subterranean process by which ideas are formed and changed. Whoever becomes our next President, and whichever party controls Congress, the deeper evolution of public attitudes is likely to continue its now three-decade-long movement away from the regnant forms of American liberalism.

This is likely to be the case even among liberals themselves. Indeed, one sign of internal dissatisfaction is the rise in some liberal circles of a movement, communitarianism, which attempts to harness positions usually regarded as conservative, especially in the areas of personal and civic virtue, to the cart of a political philosophy that has relentlessly subordinated considerations of the common good to the sovereign liberty of rights-bearing individuals. In the work of Amitai Etzioni, Robert Bellah, and William Galston, the last-named of whom served for a time as Bill Clinton’s domestic-policy adviser, one sees an effort, however vague and tentative (or opportunistic), to put some distance between today’s liberals and today’s liberalism.

About the Author

Wilfred M. McClay, who holds the SunTrust Chair of Excellence in the Humanities at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, contributed “Is Conservatism Finished?” to the January COMMENTARY. His latest book is Figures in the Carpet: Finding the Human Person in the American Past.