Question: What are you best known for?
Michael Sandel: Well my first book was “Liberalism and the Limited Justice”. And it was an attempt to respond to the philosophical account … the great philosophical account of liberalism that had been provided by John Rawls – a former colleague here at Harvard – probably the greatest political philosopher of the 20th Century, certainly in the Anglo-American world. And his book came out in 1971, which was four years before I went off to England to graduate school. And it was the most important, and the most impressive philosophical account of the moral basis of American liberalism. And in many ways I found it very compelling and inspiring. But my first book was actually a critique of John Rawls’ version of liberalism. And the main argument was that contemporary liberalism didn’t take adequate account of the role of moral and spiritual questions in political life, and conceived the individual to narrowly as not sufficiently bound up with claims of community, and history, and tradition. So that was my first book, and that … some people, they liked to describe my position as communitarian which, in some ways, I can understand, but I’m not completely comfortable with. And so the liberal … debate flourished in … sort of in political philosophy during the 1980s. And so I think I was first identified with that debate.
Recorded on: 6/12/07
Michael Sandel: I think the reason we have such an impoverished public debate is that we are too reluctant to take on hard controversial, but important moral questions that really go to the heart of the question...