Doing Justice

Harvard professor Michael J. Sandel is used to playing to large crowds—his undergraduate course on justice enrolls more than 1,000 students each year. He has since turned the course into a book, Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? as well as a new PBS series. He spoke with Sojourners editor-in-chief Jim Wallis about the importance of moral discourse in today’s public square.

Jim Wallis: Why is there so little civility in public discourse today?

Michael Sandel: The reason for the breakdown in civil discourse is not that we have too much moral argument in politics, but that we have too little. What we really have are ideological food fights—assertions hurled back and forth on cable news television programs, radio talk shows, and on the floor of Congress. What we don’t have is a serious engagement with the competing moral and spiritual convictions that citizens bring to public life. We tend to shy away from that, for fear that engaging with these fiercely held convictions about moral and spiritual questions would just be a recipe for hopeless disagreement. But by failing to engage with the deepest sources of people’s convictions in the public arena, we empty it out.

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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