Virtue En Masse
Virtue En Masse
It is a pity that Sandel neglects the sociological side of John Stuart Mill’s argument in On Liberty–not just because he fails therefore to do justice to the liberal case for neutrality, but also because the question of how traditional moral ideals fare in modern circumstances of mass society (and also global society) is in fact supposed to be a dominant theme of Sandel’s book. Sandel suggests that the liberal ideals of freedom and autonomy are sociologically not availablein modern circumstances; however, under modern circumstances, the Aristotelian ideal of a polity devoted to the inculcation of genuine full-blooded virtue may not be sociologically available either. We cannot pretend that the United States has the population of quattrocento Florence. If the scale of political organization is so different as to enable only civic agency of a different sort, then it is likely that our thinking about “the qualities of character necessary to the common good of self-government” will have to be different too. If the premises of Benjamin Constant’s discussion of the reality and the phenomenology of politics in the modern world are taken seriously, they may necessitate a rethinking of civic virtue: both of what it is and how, more structurally, it is related to the agency conditions of collective action.
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