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Communitarianism and Morality: In Search of the Subject
O n the surface, there is nothing unusual about Radio 4 devoting a three-part series to a political philosopher. After all, Rousseau, Marx and Mill are just the kind of subjects on which the station has built its intellectual reputation. But listeners to last week's opening episode of The Public Philosopher would have noticed that, unlike those three giants of the discipline, the philosopher in question is not in the least bit dead. At 59, Michael Sandel, who is professor of government at Harvard, is probably the most popular political philosopher of his generation. His work has drawn plaudits across the globe and in British politics his admirers include Ed Miliband, David Willetts and John Cruddas.
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Modern-day communitarianism began in the upper reaches of Anglo-American academia in the form of a critical reaction to John Rawls' landmark book A Theory of Justice Rawls Drawing primarily upon the insights of Aristotle and Hegel, political philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre, Michael Sandel, Charles Taylor and Michael Walzer disputed Rawls' assumption that the principal task of government is to secure and distribute fairly the liberties and economic resources individuals need to lead freely chosen lives. These critics of liberal theory never did identify themselves with the communitarian movement the communitarian label was pinned on them by others, usually critics , [ 1 ] much less offer a grand communitarian theory as a systematic alternative to liberalism. This essay is therefore divided in three parts, and for each part I present the main communitarian claims, followed by an argument in each part that philosophical concerns in the s have largely given way to the political concerns that motivated much of the communitarian critique in the first place. Communitarians have sought to deflate the universal pretensions of liberal theory.