Paul LauritzenFebruary 11, 2008 - 11:01am0 comments
The Case against Perfection
Michael J. Sandel
Harvard University Press, $18.95, 176 pp.
In his 1987 novel Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe explores the hubris, greed, and recklessness of the 1980s Wall Street boom. One of the central characters, Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street bond trader, styles himself a “master of the universe” because he controls vast amounts of money and is therefore treated deferentially by almost everyone around him. It is a book about the folly of human arrogance. I thought of Bonfire when I read The Case against Perfection, Michael Sandel’s marvelous little book about the moral issues raised by genetic engineering and other forms of biotechnology, for Sandel’s central thesis concerns the drive to mastery that appears inseparable from our society’s enthusiastic embrace of biotechnology. Indeed, a passage at the end of Sandel’s book is strongly reminiscent of Wolfe’s indictment of unbridled arrogance, and it is a nice summary of Sandel’s whole argument. “It is possible to view genetic engineering,” Sandel writes,
as the ultimate expression of our resolve to see ourselves astride the world, the masters of our nature. But that vision of freedom is flawed. It threatens to banish our appreciation of life as a gift, and to leave us with nothing to affirm or behold outside our own will.
The book is an elaboration of themes first sounded in an article of the same title published in the Atlantic Monthly...