Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Michael Sandel gives BBC Reith Lectures (also at

(Primary version of this is on my Apple blog, Barr Stocker's Weblog.)

Michael Sandel is a well known political theorist at Harvard. I mainly know him through Liberalism and the Limits of Justice (1982 and 1998), which criticises Rawls’ conception of egalitarian liberalism for being too individualistic and morally neutral in its foundations, which Sandel argues weakens his argument for social justice. He is giving the BBC Reith Lectures, broadcast on BBC Radion 4 (click here for the podcasts).

The argument has not been too deep so far. Sandel thinks the world has been too individualistic and market based since the 1980s and that the recent decline in world asset prices confirms the weakness of such an argument. The recent decline in asset prices has causes in government actions, particularly in the USA where federally sponsored banks kept expanding the number of mortgages to ‘subprime’ (risky) investors under political pressure. Sandel keeps up the myth that the George W. Bush years have been ones of wild market ‘fundamentalism’. In fact national security and social spending (including humanitarian and development aid to low income countries) both shot up in the US under Bush, and many new regulations were introduced for the financial sector, administered by a larger number of regulatory body employees at greater expense to the tax payer.

The format of the Reith lectures is to have journalists, politicians and some other less know people in the audience ask questions. Sadly this just contributed to the feeling that Sandel gestured towards his ‘Communitarian’ view of the world (Communitarianism tends to mix social conservatism and economic leftism). I’ll listen to the remaining lectures, not too hopeful of finding any really good arguments and insights.

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