Michael J. Sandel

89 Texas L. Rev. 687

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In Minerva’s Owl, Professor Abramson presents an account of the tradition of Western political thought. Professor Sandel finds that the distinctive appeal of Abramson’s book is the conflict between two rival ways of thinking about politics. The first, associated with an ancient way of thinking, holds that politics should seek to cultivate virtue and promote the good life. The second view rejects state affirmation of any particular conception of the good life.

Abramson, writes Sandel, leans toward the modern viewpoint as he worries that a politics of virtue is a judgmental politics, at odds with democracy and individual choice. However, he is also drawn towards the idea that politics should aim at higher ideals than toleration and choice.

To illustrate, Abramson discusses Socrates’ moral and political vision and how his engagement with Socrates’ work has changed over time. He then turns toward modern political thinkers, such as Hobbes and Locke, which he finds disappointing, each in their own way. As it turns out, Abramson’s favorite modern political thinker is Rousseau, who, notes Sandel, is arguably the least liberal.