Harvard University Press, $25.95, 304 pp.
Michael Sandel is a leading political philosopher and public intellectual. In his first major book, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, published more than two decades ago, he challenged John Rawls’s influential account of liberalism. Rawls’s conception of the individual as a “free and independent self, unencumbered by prior moral ties,” he argued, could not make sense of moral and political obligations, let alone aspects of human identity, whose claims on us do not rest on choice. Sandel’s critique of Rawls-style liberalism helped spark the so-called communitarian movement, although Sandel subsequently sought to distance himself from aspects of communitarian thought.
In his second major book, Democracy’s Discontent, Sandel explored the relationship between the contemporary liberal conception of the individual and the public philosophy by which Americans now live. He links the unencumbered self to the proposition that freedom consists in the capacity of each individual to choose goals and ways of life. So far as possible, then, government should remain neutral concerning competing conceptions of good lives and should refrain from attempting to shape the character of citizens. In this context, economic policy...