In Democracy's Discontent, Michael Sandel argues for a revival of the republican tradition in order to counteract the pernicious effects of contemporary liberalism. As in his earlier work, Sandel charges that liberals who embrace the ideals of political neutrality and the unencumbered self are engaged in a selfsubverting enterprise, for no society that lives by these ideals can sustain itself. Sandel is right to endorse the republican emphasis on forming citizens and cultivating civic virtues. By opposing liberalism as vigorously as he does, however, he engages in a self-subverting enterprise of his own. That is, Sandel is in danger of undercutting his position by threatening the liberal principles upon which he implicitly relies. This danger is greatest when he presses his case against the unencumbered self, when he appeals to the obligations of membership, and when he treats republicanism and liberalism as adversaries rather than allies.

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 1999

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 1999, University of Notre Dame. This article first appeared in The Review of Politics: 61:2 (1999), 181-208.

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