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Michael Sandel has been impressing the world with his bold lectures in Harvard for over thirty years now. His sharp mind, insolent but at the same time soft and tolerant remarks concerning various fields of human life make his listeners and readers wonder how highly knowledgeable, understanding and intellectually sensitive this person should be to the moral issues of the world. Interestingly, by the author not only talks about the problems, he also tries to figure out the best ways, or at least make the readers think of the possible, often alternative, solutions to the continuing challenges.

In his book “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do” Michael Sandel brings up a new burning issue for discussion – military draft. Certainly, the overwhelming majority of the citizens would prefer to have a professional army who will definitely know what and how to do in case of emergency, however, the democratic country should have a voluntary military system and not conscripted as each person has the right to choose whether to join the national forces or not. Furthermore, the author digs deeper, and the new picture opens up which shows everyone that the war is mostly the fight of the poor people of the nation: The rich have enough money to buy themselves the substitutes to go to war instead of them, when they are conscripted as the first Chapter of the book would outline.

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 Michael Sandel raises a completely dazzling and unexpected question: Why does the country need to have military force at all? The government seems to treat the military as some service industry, whereas it should probably take on another course and be perceived as a dignified political institution which obligates all appropriate citizens to contribute. If the individual is honest, her or his political judgment cannot be segregated from the ideas of the society well-being.

Looking at the loud slogans of the equality, ban on discrimination, promotion of democracy and freedoms across the national states as well as half of the world, it is weird to observe the actual low level of morality that plagues the globe. A good example is a white American who is refused the place at the university while the black applicant whose results are much lower is admitted. His indignance would not know the limits. However, as Michael Sandel, shares, everything depends on the purpose people ascribe to higher education. If it is only about giving out merits and prizes, then, of course, making a favor for those who are considered to belong to the disadvantaged social groups would be utterly unacceptable. On the other hand, the universities are those institutions who create professionals for the working places, and cannot simply ignore their own policies as it may directly affect the future of the whole nation.

The morality theme is everywhere around people: Either explicitly or implicitly. It saturates practically each moment of their actions, even politics. And whether the citizens want to recognize it or not, politics carries the great deal of morality in it – if not in the honest actions of the politicians who hide their expenses, than at least in their calling for people to be so. Michael Sandel sends a plea throughout all chapters of his book to stop leading unreasonable debates over the politics, and finally have a sensible conversation about the sort of society each of us prefers to live in.

“The Greatest Happiness Principle: Utilitarianism”, which is presented in the Chapter 2, reveals the careful management of the possible results from any situation. The main principle of utilitarianism as distinguished by Jeremy Bentham lies in the ability to determine the worthiness of a word or an action by the actual outcomes, still leading a hedonistic lifestyle. Michael Sandel finds such a notion ridiculous and illogical as if the person believes that he or she are ruled over by two sovereigns – pain and pleasure, than it would mean that legislation and morality are simply about outbalancing pain with pleasure, and in such an easy way reaching the sheer taste of happiness. Michael Sandel provides a very good example to prove his statement: If the majority of people happen to have an extremely strong dislike of the religion which is practiced by minority, according to Jeremy Bentham’s principle, this majority just has to ban the religion and done with it. However, if such a thing occurs, where do all the democratic and liberal rights of the nation disappear? The author reasons that if the society wants to care about the individual happiness of its citizens, than the compromise should be found and not the radical action taken which leaves the smaller half of the people unhappy as utilitarianism presupposes.

 “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do” is quite thought-through and filled with a strong emotion for the individual’s rights, though the author does not really seem to tackle this issue directly, he emphasizes on the problems which make the world confused and unsure about critical challenges of morality. Nevertheless, the author recognizes that there is always a certain limit when the talk goes about morality. The third chapter of the book “Do We Own Ourselves?: Libertarianism” tackles this problem closely, especially regarding the opinions of Robert Nozick. Despite the fact that libertarians mostly crave for the society where there are no coercion, but the high level of liberty, freedom, and voluntary association, they mostly refer to the society which either inhabits quite a reduced states or, at maximum, has no state at all.

Robert Nozick, who similarly to Michael Sandel in the second chapter of this book criticized the ideas of utilitarianism, goes as far as to reject the main principles of libertarianism, too. He states that frequently personal freedom can only be effective through collectivist politics, and that taxation greatly protects that freedom of many people from the threatening power of the few who have enough money, influence, and selfishness to exert tyrannical impact on the society. Michael Sandel’s response appears to be somewhere in the middle: He recognizes the views of Robert Nozick and supports them with his own comments. The government should have the significant power to govern society as if the masses of people are granted unlimited liberties, the anarchy would come, and no one would be able to stop the chaos which would spread across the country and beyond its borders.

Michael Sandel’s notions of the common good and the civic virtue cannot coexist with the initial notion of libertarianism, therefore, on the contrary to his argument against the Jeremy Bentham’s views, the author is quite supportive of Robert Nozick’s reasons. Common good means a hard, constant work on the relationship among people and between government and the people. In case, the government cannot provide the society with the means to lead a productive, life of full value, it should try to find the compromise which would make complacent everyone but still would not restrict the natural rights of others. Utilitarianism and libertarianism appear to be radical in their grounds, despite the fact that many of their points can be found acceptable and even positive for the political society.

An interesting issue is presented in the Chapter 9 “What Do We Owe One Another?: Dilemmas of Loyalty” where Michael Sandel tries to answer an ever-lasting question on the obligations of morality that stand in front of each person regarding all other people. The author attempts at finding out whether people should go beyond their duties that they have, as established by the society they live in, to other people. Moreover, he tackles the problem whether these duties should be enforced by the political governing or simply let on its own according to the morality of each citizen individually.

Michael Sandel states that moral individualism, as described Immanuil Kant as well as John Rawls, recognize only two types of moral obligations: Voluntary and natural duties. The former are special as they require a consent, whereas the latter are considered to be universal as no consent is needed. According to Sandel, the world cannot be ruled only by these two types which narrow down humans’ freedoms too much. He comes up with his own type of obligation which resembles a little bit voluntary duty, however, it does not come up from the consent. In this case, the author appeals to the idea of Alasdair Macintyre who states that all people are so-called storytellers and before answering such a burning question of what an individual has to do, he or she should first understand which story the individual is a part of, meaning which of the stories he or she chooses. On this basis, Sandel recognizes obligations of solidarity which do not require any consent, however, they help the person to figure out who he or she is, as living with those responsibilities and loyalties of solidarity presupposes acting on the moral principles that bring surrounding people satisfaction and a sense of happiness.

A good example of this would be the act of German president, Johannes Rau, who apologized to the whole Israeli Knesset for the horrors of the Holocaust that haunted Jews for years, though he did not participate in the persecution himself. Such an act means taking a lot of responsibility as how can someone apologize for something they did not even experience. Therefore, Sandel sees it as a problem of the moral individualism which can only cause more difficulties in the communication of people, as the person, factually, should not carry any responsibility for something he or she did not participate and even did not support it on distance. The main problem of the moral individualism lies in the acceptance of the possibility of detachment the self from its historical and social context.

Michael Sandel’s “Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do” is a good material for consideration, and not only for those who live within the borders of the United States’ politics but as well for all other nations who care about the morality of their citizens, and the duties they owe it as well as the obligations among people in general.

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