Occasionally, I accept invitations to speak on subjects I am still exploring in my mind. The talk I am going to give today at an event called Festival of our Future falls into that category. Should I apologize for not knowing the full and complete answer on how to fix politics? Not really. This is from a book review written by one of the world’s leading political philosophers:
In recent decades, American public discourse has become hollow and shrill. Instead of morally robust debates about the common good, we have shouting matches on talk radio and cable television, and partisan food fights in Congress. People argue past one another, without really listening or seeking to persuade.
This condition has diminished the public’s regard for political parties and politicians, and also given rise to a danger: A politics empty of moral argument creates a vacuum of meaning that is often filled by the vengeful certitudes of strident nationalism.
Neither the book’s author, public intellectual Robert B. Reich, nor Michael Sandel have nice, neat answers.
As these examples suggest, the nonpartisan, above-the-fray conception of the common good that Reich proposes may be too high-minded to reinvigorate American public discourse in the way he wants. In the face of President Trump’s serial violations of democratic norms, it is tempting to appeal to Americans, whatever their party or political persuasion, to reaffirm certain principles that all can share. But such principles, if truly detached from debate about where they lead, are so abstract that they can only serve as hortatory fare for commencement addresses and the Fourth of July. The best hope for reviving the common good is to invigorate moral argument in the messy, contentious domain of democratic politics.
How could I?