Russel Muirhead

89 Texas L. Rev. 671

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Unlike the progressive history of science, in which superior theories supersede those that came before, Professor Muirhead states that both Professors Abramson and Sandel reject this position as to the history of politics. For them, the history of political philosophy is not entirely historical. Neither believes that Aristotle’s Politics has been “refuted.”

According to Muirhead, this is problematic. For example, because Athenian democracy was predicated on slavery, anyone who looks to ancient democracy as a model has something to explain at the outset. Viewing the debate between ancient and modern as a live one reopens these foundational questions, but, for Muirhead, it is a mark of progress that we do not have to argue these points anew.

Of course, Muirhead notes, this is not what Abramson or Sandel intend. Instead they implicitly embrace the achievements of political modernity. So, asks Muirhead, why do both thinkers regard ancient political thought as alive? Muirhead finds that Abramson’s history of western political thought invites them simply to think. The intention is not to have them reach a certain political understanding but to acquire political maturity.

Justice, meanwhile, is not a survey of political thought but an attempt to clarify and to criticize liberalism. Its foundational assumptions are natural freedom and equality, and, in light of these, liberal states hesitate to use law to enforce or uphold any particular conception of the good life. Sandel examines the two sides of this modern moral philosophy: consequentialism and rights-based morality. Like Abramson, writes Muirhead, Sandel cares more about equipping his readers to make their own case than he cares about persuading them of his. What Sandel calls on us to do, notes Muirhead, has never quite been done: a vast and heterogeneous population of political equals deliberating respectfully about the good life—and coming to a broad agreement about the ideals that inform our laws to give the laws legitimacy.