Question: Who are you?
Michael Sandel: I grew up outside Minneapolis, Minnesota, so I’m a child of the Midwest. And I grew up rooting for the Minnesota Twins baseball team. And I went to school in Minnesota until my family moved to Los Angeles when I was 13. And then I went to public school in Los Angeles … actually Palisades High School was my high school … just overlooking the Pacific Ocean. And then I went to college at Brandeis University in Massachusetts. And for graduate school, I went off to Oxford in England.
Well I’ve been interested, I guess, throughout my life in politics and the shape of American public life and civic life. And I can’t be sure that this is the source of it, but Minnesota always had a strong civic tradition and emphasis on civic life going back to the Democratic Farm Labor party, which had its origins in the Midwest. And it was still strong in Minnesota and the surrounding region when I was growing up. There was also … neighborhoods and community played a big part in life growing up in Minnesota. So I suppose there may have been some influences. Not that kind, but … .
I think I began really to think about these questions more fully and more clearly when I went abroad. I went to England to study after my undergraduate years. I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. I thought maybe a lawyer. Maybe a political journalist … that appealed to me a lot. And maybe I thought I would run for office and try to be a politician. And academia was in fourth place in my ideas when I graduated from college. And then I had an opportunity to go off to England to study full time, and really to read more, and study more without having to choose a particular path. And seeing America from a distance for the first time living in England – I wound up spending four years studying there – enabled me to see things about American politics that I had not been aware of living within the United States. And in particular what struck me was the way in which American liberalism had turned procedural, and had really become empty of the kind of moral and spiritual energy that I came to think any Democratic politics requires … any progressive politics require. And then I began to try and understand why that had happened historically, and also philosophically.
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...