The public sphere

The current issue of Social Science History is devoted to a series of articles in honor of Charles Tilly (link), around the general theme of the "public sphere" (the theme of the Social Science History Association annual meeting in 2007). Tilly was an active presence in the Social Science History Association, and this issue recognizes Tilly's …

Rousseau the democrat

Rousseau's political philosophy probably represents the richest and most adequate view of the moral foundations of the state of any of the great figures in the history of political thought. But it is also complex and opaque. Rousseau is usually cast as falling within the social contract tradition, according to which the legitimacy of the …

A property-owning democracy

John Rawls offered a general set of principles of justice that were formally neutral across specific institutions.  However, he also believed that the institutions of a "property-owning democracy" are most likely to satisfy the two principles of justice. So what is a property-owning democracy? In Justice as Fairness: A Restatement (2001) Rawls offered a more explicit discussion …

Feasibility conditions on social reform

Several earlier posts have raised the issues of social change and social progress (post, post). People sometimes want society to be different (change), and they want it to be better (progress). But not all outcomes are possible, and some possible outcomes are not sustainable over time. So how should we think about sweeping prescriptions for …

Social progress

What is involved in "making society better"? What do we have in mind when we aspire to improving society? I suppose there are several things we might mean by this idea. Superficially we might say that a society is better off when its members are better off; but is there more to the story? There …

The dropout crisis

The United States faces a huge dropout crisis. In some cities the high school graduation rate is less than 50% -- sometimes as low as 25%. And this means devastating poverty for the dropouts, as well as continuing social blight for their communities. We might say, though, that the graduation rate is only the symptom …

Citizens’ assemblies

There is quite a bit of interest today in exploring better mechanisms for implementing the goals of democracy in more effective and broadly legitimate ways than most electoral democracies have succeeded in doing to date.  A core democratic goal is to create deliberation and decision mechanisms that permit citizens to become sufficiently educated about the …

Appearance and reality in public life

So what kind of democracy do we have?  Do our institutions do a great job of establishing the public interest over the medium term, or have our institutions been captured by private interests, leaving essentially no real power in the hands of citizens? The way it is supposed to work, according to Civics 101: Elected …

Democracy and agency in development ethics

Development ethics is an area of applied ethics that attempts to explore the moral issues involved in global social and economic transformation.  Key to the urgency of the field is the fact of massive global poverty, hunger, and inequality.  The current situation of the world's poor -- in Egypt, India, Mexico, Sudan, or Brazil, for …

Business interests and democracy

The central ideal of democracy is the notion that citizens can express their political and policy preferences through political institutions, and that the policies selected will reflect those preferences. We also expect that elected officials will act ethically in support of the best interests of the public. This is their public trust. The anti-democratic possibility …

%d bloggers like this: