JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs. On behalf of the Carnegie Council, it is my pleasure to welcome back Michael Sandel to our breakfast program.
Professor Sandel is one of our generation's most important philosophers. On each visit he has stimulated us with thought-provoking arguments, and I am confident that as Professor Sandel discusses his most recent work, Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do?, he will inspire us once again.
This book grew out of Professor Sandel's introductory course on justice which he has taught to over 14,000 students at Harvard. This book has also been made into a 12-part television series which is being shown on PBS.
From ancient times to modern-day political thought, people have been asking, what is the right thing to do? How many times have you yourself raised this question and wrestled with a decision?
Deciding what to do or not to do in any given situation is never black or white. Once you determine how you're going to react, knowing that there may be consequences, not just for you individually, but for the rest of society, can often be worrisome.
In his most recent book, Professor Sandel explores the meaning of justice and challenges us to think about difficult moral dilemmas, especially those in our civic life.
Taking us on the same exhilarating journey that captivates Harvard students year after year, he invites us to travel on a quest of self-exploration and self-understanding in order to help us figure out what we believe in and why. Professor Sandel has a rare gift for making complex issues accessible, comprehensible, and, at times, even entertaining, particularly when he uses everyday examples to ask what our obligations are to others as people in a free society.
For instance, he asks, should governments tax the rich to help the poor? What kind of war injury should count for receiving the Purple Heart? Was it unfair to funnel massive sums to failed banks and investment companies? Are such practices unjust? If so, why?
These questions are not only about how individuals should treat one another, he says, but they are also about what the law should be, about values, and how society should be organized.
With each response, Professor Sandel shows us how a deeper grasp of philosophy can help us make sense of politics, morality, and our own convictions as well. He introduces us to three core ideas: maximizing welfare, respecting freedom, and promoting virtue. Each of these concepts points to a different way of thinking about justice.
Political philosophy cannot resolve all disagreements, but it can give shape to the arguments we have and bring moral clarity to the alternatives we confront as democratic citizens. As you wrestle with your own predilections and are thinking about, "What is the right thing to do?", you might consider this quote from Martin Luther King: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."
With this in mind, please join me in giving a warm welcome to a very special guest, someone who can teach us a great deal, Michael Sandel.
MICHAEL SANDEL: I want to begin by thanking Joanne for that wonderful introduction and also Joel Rosenthal for convening us as he's done over so many years and really building the Carnegie Council into a forum for discussion of the big questions of values and ethics as they relate to the world. This is a rare and precious thing these days, as we are struggling to find a form of civil discourse about big important questions. What the Carnegie Council has done is a model of what we need, and I feel so proud to be a part of it. Having come here on a few occasions in the past, I feel like I'm coming home every time I come here.
Thank you all for joining us for what I hope will be a discussion.
The book that Joanne was generously referring to is a book about justice. It's a book of political philosophy, really, and it deals with what the famous philosophers have had to say about justice, going back to Aristotle and including Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill. But it doesn't deal with those philosophers as museum pieces or as artifacts in the history of ideas. It treats them as participants in arguments in which we are still engaged today, even though we often don't realize it. So it connects what the philosophers have had to say about justice and rights and equality and the common good—it connects those big ideas to the moral dilemmas and political controversies that we're engaged in all the time.
Much of the book is about those controversies and how we might reason our way through these ethical dilemmas, including the debate today over health care, bailouts and bonuses and the moral outrage over them, the ethics of torture—we have had a debate about torture in recent years in this country—questions about the gap between rich and poor, arguments about the distribution of income, debates about affirmative action—is it fair to count race and ethnicity, for example, in hiring or in university admissions?—and also the debate about same-sex marriage.
The students relate the ideas of the philosophers to the convictions they have about these contemporary issues. In the course of doing that, it's not only a way to get them interested in reading these famous philosophers—I'm a teacher, after all; I do want them to read the philosophers—but it's also a way of inviting students to critically reflect on the moral and political convictions that they have, that all of us have on particular issues, but that, when we reflect in a systematic way, can add up to a kind of coherent view of the world that ideally can inform the public debates that we have as democratic citizens. That, in a way, really is the project.
What I thought I would do today would be, rather than lecture about this or that issue or topic or philosopher, to have a bit of that kind of discussion here. I don't want you to be too intimidated by the comparison. Joel wanted to know how this group would do compared to the students. I should say—so that people won't be too worried—they aren't all freshmen. They are freshmen through seniors. They may be majoring in any number of different fields, but they come together for these discussions.
Shall we give it a try? People may need to speak up to be heard, but I think we also have a handheld microphone, so that we can hear one another.
One of the topics that the book deals with has to do with questions of justice and ethics that are raised by markets and the use we make of markets. It's a feature of recent decades, especially, that markets are reaching into spheres of life traditionally governed by non-market values. That raises questions and ethical controversies that we as a society need to think our way through.
Let's begin with a historical case. During the Civil War, the first draft in the United States that Lincoln enacted—it was the Union draft—had an unusual provision. They needed people to fight in the Civil War. Congress passed a law that provided for a draft by lottery, locally based. But if your number were drawn and you didn't want to serve, you could hire a substitute to take your place.
And people did. They put ads in newspapers saying, "I will offer $800," or $1,000, sometimes $1,500—a lot of money in those days—"if you will go fight in the Civil War instead of me." Andrew Carnegie, to take one notable example, hired a substitute to take his place to fight in the Civil War.
So here's our first question. We can start with a show of hands. How many consider that Civil War system of conscription with the opportunity to hire a substitute fair and how many consider it unfair or unjust? Let's start with those who object. How many think it's an unjust system of military service?
And how many don't? How many think it's fair?
All right, we have an interesting division of the room.
PARTICIPANT: How about abstentions?
MICHAEL SANDEL: Abstentions? Edith has noticed that not everyone voted. We'll see how their views evolve based on the discussion.
Let's begin with those who object, who consider it unfair. What would be your objection? Who will get us started by offering a reason?
PARTICIPANT: People of wealth had a better chance of doing that if they opted to, because they had the money to do it. Others did not.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Right. And why is it unfair if people of wealth, or the affluent, are able to buy their way out of military service? Why is that bad, Edith?
PARTICIPANT: It's bad because it separates the poor from the wealthy, and that's not what democracy is supposed to be about.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Okay, good.
PARTICIPANT: Is it your civic duty to serve?
MICHAEL SANDEL: And is that a rhetorical question?
PARTICIPANT: No. It's the idea of being part of the overall community.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Right. Tell us who you are.
MICHAEL SANDEL: So, Laurence, you're suggesting that this is a reason to object to the Civil War buyout system.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Because if it's everyone's civic duty to serve, it doesn't quite seem right to hire somebody else.
Would you say the same, Laurence—here I'm giving you another example, maybe to buttress your point—what about jury duty? It's inconvenient to have to go serve on a jury. Would you say, therefore, that people who can afford it should be able to hire a substitute to go serve on a jury for them?
MICHAEL SANDEL: For the same reason?
MICHAEL SANDEL: Okay. Now let's hear from someone who disagrees with Laurence and with Edith. Those who would defend the Civil War buyout system, what would you say to the two arguments we've heard, that it's unfair that the rich can buy their way out and it falls disproportionately on the poor, and Laurence's point of, isn't there a civic virtue here that's being outsourced, so to speak? What would people say in reply to that?
Firstly, you did say it was the law?
MICHAEL SANDEL: It was the law, but we're trying to figure out what the law ought to be. So we're the legislators or the citizens voting on the law.
PARTICIPANT: I would distinguish between fighting and jury duty.
Secondly, in regard to what Edith said, I would say that a basis for democracy is not economic equality.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Ah, so Edith is demanding too much when she worries about economic inequality as undermining democracy.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Mary, why do you think that economic inequality is not inconsistent with democracy? Why do you disagree with Edith about that?
PARTICIPANT: Because I think one of the foundations of democracy is enabling and fostering people's rights, and I believe there will always be a difference in the ability of people to make money. So I just do not feel that democracy is fundamentally at risk if people have different economic bases.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Good. Thank you. Yes?
PARTICIPANT: I come from a country which has neither conscription nor jury duty, but we know something about democracy. Democracy essentially has to be built on an edifice of rules which are equally applicable. If you give individuals some privilege due to money, others a privilege due to title or something else—the possibility of a carve-out—then you cannot run a truly democratic system. It's a very simple observation.
MICHAEL SANDEL: This is interesting. I forgot how you voted. What was your view about the Civil War system?
PARTICIPANT: I was against outsourcing. I'll come back to outsourcing in a minute.
Similarly, that would be my vote if you had called one on jury duty as well. If you devise a system which is based on rules which are equally applicable, then a privileged individual or set of individuals—for them to get a carve-out, I think that works against democracy. It's a very basic objection.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Very good.
I want to ask you a slightly different question, still about military service, though. I want to take another poll. Now let's move from the Civil War. Let's fast-forward to the present. We don't have that system anymore. Now we have an all-volunteer army. How many people think the all-volunteer army is just? How many think it's unfair?
Let's start with those who favor the all-volunteer army.
How many find it unfair, objectionable?
Let's hear first from the defenders, those who believe it's a fair system for allocating military service. Who will start?
I formed an opinion in the last years of the active draft that the draft is fundamentally undemocratic. It's understandable, for pragmatic reasons, why there was a draft, and there may be a draft again.
MICHAEL SANDEL: You mean during the Vietnam era, when there were all sorts of deferments?
PARTICIPANT: I just think that telling someone that they have to—
MICHAEL SANDEL: Oh, in principle, even without the deferment. And why is that? Can you say a little bit more about why it's unfair?
PARTICIPANT: Because my conception of democracy—at least this country's form of democracy—is that people are to be permitted to develop in the ways that they wish to, consistent with larger comity.
MICHAEL SANDEL: So people should be free to choose their own line of work. They shouldn't be forced to serve in the military by the state.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Okay, good. So it's coercion. That would be your objection.
PARTICIPANT: It felt pretty coercive to me.
MICHAEL SANDEL: You were drafted. You confronted the draft.
PARTICIPANT: I spent a great deal of time in the military.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Okay.
Now I would like to hear from a critic of the all-volunteer army, someone who voted that it's unfair. Tell us.
PARTICIPANT: I think if we had a draft, we wouldn't be in Iraq or Afghanistan. I think people should accept the responsibility of defending their country if we vote to go to war.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Everyone should have a responsibility to defend their country, to share in the sacrifice, if there is a decision to go to war.
PARTICIPANT: Yes. And if you are opposed fundamentally to killing, why, there are other duties where you can serve your country. But you should accept the draft.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Universal national service of some kind.
MICHAEL SANDEL: How would you respond to Matthew's point that that's coercive? If you are going to say that every citizen should be conscripted to serve his or her country, whether in the military or in Teach for America or in a health clinic in Appalachia, how do you answer the objection that that's a violation of individual freedom?
PARTICIPANT: So is a red light if you're supposed to stop at it. We have all kinds of rules that are coercive to make a civilization go. That fits into it, I think.
MICHAEL SANDEL: And this connects with the earlier point that there is a civic duty that everyone has to serve their country.
PARTICIPANT: Yes, I feel very strongly about it.
MICHAEL SANDEL: What would you say? I want to know how you voted.
PARTICIPANT: I voted unfair because it is unfair.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Why is it unfair?
PARTICIPANT: Because, by and large, people with money or some kind of advantage don't have to serve, because, basically, the all-volunteer army is an economic release for a lot of people who need the employment. But again, that's what society is. So the word "unfair," I believe, is the wrong choice. It is a societal decision.
MICHAEL SANDEL: But you object to it. It's one you would vote against.
PARTICIPANT: No, I didn't object. I said it's unfair.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Would you vote against it?
MICHAEL SANDEL: You wouldn't?
MICHAEL SANDEL: You consider it unfair, but you would vote for it?
PARTICIPANT: I think that a lot of things are unfair that I vote for.
MICHAEL SANDEL: You do?
PARTICIPANT: But I vote for a lot of things that are unfair. I vote for a lot of things that are fair. I pick and choose.
MICHAEL SANDEL: There were more people who objected to the Civil War system than there were who objected to the all-volunteer army. Here's a question I have for people who were in that position. I don't remember, Edith, how you voted on the all-volunteer army. Do you consider it unfair?
PARTICIPANT: No—wait a second. I'm in the middle here. I would say, under duress—in other words, there's nothing wrong, I don't think, with volunteering. My son was a volunteer in the army. But if it got to the point where the volunteers were no longer adequate, then I think you have to have conscription.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Good, okay.
I voted that the all-volunteer is fair. But my question is really going to be this. I'm going to throw one thing in here. People were turning around and saying everyone should serve. That means, in my understanding, both male and female. Therefore, if we have universal service that is required, particularly in this day and age, with the various affirmative action laws that we have, then perhaps we should consider doing what Israel does: Everyone, male and female, must serve for a certain period of time in the military, be trained that way.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Not just some form of national service, but specifically in the military.
PARTICIPANT: Military. Otherwise, the volunteer army, as far as I'm concerned, particularly in peacetime, where there is no declared combat as such—then the all-volunteer is fair, because it gives an opportunity to both male and female.
MICHAEL SANDEL: You wouldn't exclude women from your national service.
PARTICIPANT: Oh, no. I think they should have to serve, too.
MICHAEL SANDEL: All right. But here's the dilemma I want someone to address. It's a dilemma lurking somewhere between these two cases. There were two objections that I heard to the Civil War system. One had to do with the idea that it was unfair for the affluent to buy their way out of service and hire a less affluent person to take their place, to risk his or her life and die. (It was "his" life back then.) Does that objection also apply to an all-volunteer army, which actually, if you think about it, is a misnomer? We call it an all-volunteer army, but it's not a volunteer army in the sense that the soup kitchen involves volunteer work. The all-volunteer army is work for pay. It's a system that fills the ranks of the military through the use of the market and market incentives.
From that standpoint, the only difference between it and the Civil War is that it generalizes the system that Andrew Carnegie availed himself of individually when he hired a substitute. Now the society as a whole, so to speak, hires the substitutes. Those who are affluent don't have to go if they don't want to.
If it was unfair back then for the affluent to buy their way out by hiring the less fortunate to serve in their place, is there any difference, in principle, with what we're doing now, except that we've universalized that practice? Question number one.
The second objection was that military service is a civic duty, so that the sacrifice should be shared. On that argument, too, if that argument condemns the Civil War system, it would seem equally to condemn the use of the market system generally to allocate military service, where some perform that civic duty for pay because they need the money or the college benefits and others don't.
Is there anyone here who took the view that the Civil War system was unfair on one or the other of those grounds, who nonetheless defends the all-volunteer army? If so, how would you address that dilemma? Yes? Tell us your name.
MICHAEL SANDEL: And you thought it was unfair in the Civil War and fair now.
PARTICIPANT: Unfair in the Civil War and fair now.
MICHAEL SANDEL: How would you reconcile those principles?
PARTICIPANT: In the Civil War, there was an edict. One had to, unless one could opt out. In an all-volunteer army, the people who go into the all-volunteer army, for whatever reason, opt to do it.
MICHAEL SANDEL: True.
PARTICIPANT: They choose to do it.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Right, but the guy who took up Andrew Carnegie's offer also chose.
PARTICIPANT: That's true.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Only he was paid by one person, whereas today they are paid by the government.
PARTICIPANT: I haven't thought that out.
MICHAEL SANDEL: That's all right. What would you say? It's not an easy question. Go ahead.
PARTICIPANT: I think that the volunteer system, as long as we do have enough to man the ranks, is proper, or at least advisable or not unfair, because I think for someone to submit his body to bullets of the enemy is—if he does it voluntarily, it's a hell of a lot different from being forced to. It's a very close question, I think, but I do think that the considerations of somebody going into battle, at least if they have said to themselves, "This is what I am going to do"—it's a very different psychology from someone who is forced to.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Okay.
PARTICIPANT: I wonder if some of the answers on that Civil War question might change if the buyout were paid not to another person, but to the government, and if it were a significant amount of money, in a world where resources are also constrained.
MICHAEL SANDEL: That would make it more fair, you think, if it were paid to the government instead of a person?
MICHAEL SANDEL: Why? There was actually a provision for a commutation fee later. You could pay $300 to the government to get out. That actually generated more opposition than did hiring the substitute. It was part of what fueled the draft riots, and Congress ultimately withdrew that. But they did try that, in addition to the hiring option.
PARTICIPANT: It seems to me that if compulsion is going to be used, then there is an obligation to fall equally on all citizens. Otherwise, it doesn't become compulsion. On the other hand, there is no necessary requirement that any particular obligation, be it military service or collecting the garbage, be equally shared by everyone—that is to say, be done on the basis of compulsion. The choice as to whether or not that should be done on the basis of equal allocation to all or on the basis of a market decision to participate is a question of public policy. Public policy isn't just decided on matters of justice either, for that matter.
MICHAEL SANDEL: But we're trying to decide what the public policy should be and what a fair public policy would be with respect to military service. That's what we're trying to determine here.
What do you think?
PARTICIPANT: What I'm arguing is that if it is necessary to generate a sufficient number of soldiers, and a sufficient number of effective soldiers, and the market doesn't supply it, then there is a case for compulsion. And in that case, it needs to fall equally on all.
But on the other hand, at present, for instance, it is argued that being a soldier is a lot more complex than being in the Civil War. It requires a lot more training and it's much more of a career activity. Doing it for only a year or two doesn't produce very effective soldiers. On the other hand, we are able to generate sufficient numbers of them through the market. In that case, I would argue both that considerations of equity are satisfied and also that, in the making of public policy, justice is not the only factor that should apply. Efficiency matters, too.
MICHAEL SANDEL: There is an efficiency argument for having a professional army. Let's take that—we have choice. Freedom of choice is one argument for using the market. Efficiency, having a professional army, not all these short-term conscripts, would be a second.
Let's see, then, how far we would take that argument. We have a market system now, sort of, to fill the ranks of the military. It's interesting to notice, though, that we haven't gone all the way with the labor market to fill the ranks of the military. While it's true that affluent Americans can essentially buy their way out and have the lower-middle class fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—I mean, disproportionately the lower-middle class—why not extend the market principle and the market logic further? The term "mercenary" is a pejorative. But what is a mercenary system if not another name for a market system in military service?
So if you believe the labor market is a legitimate way of filling the ranks in the military—here would be another way to put it—why discriminate in employment on the basis of national origin? The idea of outsourcing was brought up. If we are concerned, as Craig is, with efficiency, the standard market arguments about efficiency have led to outsourcing in many other labor markets. Why not recruit soldiers from around the world for the U.S. army, especially from low-wage countries, where there are soldiers, potential soldiers, who have the relevant qualifications, who would do a good job, who would be willing to devote a career to it, as Craig wants?
There are some non-citizens in the U.S. army currently. They are legal resident aliens, for the most part. But why stop there? Why not outsource—if the labor market is morally unobjectionable—there is the French Foreign Legion, after all.
It's interesting. The French Foreign Legion is prevented by French law from actively recruiting overseas. But today, in the day of the Internet, that prohibition means very little, and an increasing portion of the French Foreign Legion comes from Asia, from China, from various other countries.
Why not extend the labor market logic fully, drop the pejorative association with mercenaries, and outsource the hiring of soldiers and use the full market solution?
PARTICIPANT: I think we are outsourcing maybe half the number of people in Iraq. Blackwater has changed its name. We have other contractors. We hire people from all over the world to supply labor for the military bases in Iraq. I'm sure we're doing it in Afghanistan. The papers have listed all the countries. They pay a lot more than the American military does. So I don't think that's farfetched.
MICHAEL SANDEL: It's not farfetched. Helen raises a good point. My seemingly farfetched scenario is not that farfetched because, increasingly, we are fighting wars through outsourcing military service to private military contractors. By 2007, there were more paid private military contractors in Iraq than there were U.S. military troops—the first time in recent memory that that was true. That is also currently the case in Afghanistan.
To some degree, we have used the logic of markets and outsourcing to outsource to private companies. We haven't yet begun actively recruiting globally to fill the ranks of the U.S. military, but it's certainly true that we have outsourced to that degree.
From a political point of view, it would be disastrous to have a mercenary army. Supposedly, we were fighting in Iraq and we are fighting in Afghanistan for freedom. It would undercut that rationale to be hiring a lot of people from outside the United States.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Why is that?
PARTICIPANT: Because, among other things, mercenaries have traditionally been connected with colonialism. Gurkhas from Nepal were hired by the Brits to supply their forces in India.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Why couldn't we hire them to fight for freedom in Iraq?
PARTICIPANT: People from around the world wouldn't see it that way. It would confirm what so many believe, that basically what we're doing in Iraq and Afghanistan is just a continuation of what the colonial powers did in the past.
MICHAEL SANDEL: So it would pose a PR problem. But would it be unjust? Would it be morally objectionable?
MICHAEL SANDEL: It wouldn't be. It would just be a PR problem. What do you say?
PARTICIPANT: I would like to follow up on the point about the mercenaries and the issue of the market's efficiency and the supply of troops. We have soldiers that have had as many as five tours of duty and may have to be deployed for a sixth, many that have four, many that have three. I believe there is maybe a base of about 50,000 sufficiently trained troops to draw on for active deployment under the McChrystal plan.
MICHAEL SANDEL: So what would you favor? Would you favor the full outsourcing?
PARTICIPANT: That's why I think we're already at the point where you need a draft, if you want to go on fighting in this war.
MICHAEL SANDEL: What would be wrong with having global recruiting?
PARTICIPANT: We have it. It's called the European Union and NATO.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Well, I'm not sure those are the low-wage countries.
Mr. Ambassador, go ahead.
PARTICIPANT: The three ambassadors at this table mouthed the same words to one another: the Gurkhas. Indeed, that's exactly what they do and have done for the British for more than 100 years. Contrary to the suggestion that was made, they're not perceived in the manner that was suggested.
But you might also go a step further and say that what the United Nations does with peacekeeping is very much the same sort of thing. We essentially hire soldiers, mostly from low-wage countries, to wear a blue beret and then to pose themselves between warring parties—arguably one of the United Nations' better stories to be told.
And it's been ever thus. Go back to your Revolutionary War. You had the French fighting for the Americans. You had the Hessians fighting for the British. The Romans hired people from outside their empire to fight on their behalf. It's always been that way. It hasn't been necessarily perceived in a negative manner until the word "mercenary" came along, which is unquestionably a pejorative.
MICHAEL SANDEL: Okay, thank you.
PARTICIPANT: Just a quick comment. I think the Civil War analogy and the peacetime conscription misses a very significant point, from the perspective of a student of history. A civil war is something where presumably you are looking at issues of the integrity of a country. It's an emergency situation. The measures the government takes—I think justice in that context and in a pure market peacetime context—but we could have a separate discussion on that.
Another one on outsourcing. There are more jobs being outsourced in the other direction, and there is economic data. But put that aside for the moment.
It would be instructive, as Jim says, to look at the UN's experience on peacekeeping. There are, effectively, three countries from which UN peacekeeping forces are being hired. They are Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India, presumably in that order and roughly within the same range.
Why is it that more countries are not coming up with offers of troops? Firstly, the kind of training, discipline, chain-of-command consciousness, et cetera—those kinds of troops aren't physically available.
It's not how you categorize the force, whether it's mercenary or not. They don't fight for the same objectives. You could have a mercenary army hired by you and they can do a side deal with the place, and find the diamonds and turn the other way. I'm giving you an extreme situation.
Why are assets not available through the pure market mechanism? Because if it was a pure market mechanism, what you would get is something that responds to that.
In terms of justice, you're absolutely on target. But when you come to issues of national security, you'll be very careful as to where you want to hire from and whether it conforms to your worldview and your objectives.
MICHAEL SANDEL: You would have to screen to make sure that the people would be loyal and that they would be effective and that they wouldn't sell out to the other side at the first opportunity and so on. On the other hand, the military has to screen the applicants in any case, whether they are nationals or from abroad.
This has been a wonderful discussion of several ways of filling the ranks of the military. I would like to step back from the discussion about this issue to make a couple of observations about what it tells us about justice.
If you listened closely to the discussion that we have just had, three different conceptions of justice seemed to be at stake. One is the idea that justice has something to do—and this was, I think, the first idea that came to many people's minds—justice has something to do with respecting individual choice and freedom, consent, that a just society or a just policy respects the free choice of individuals. That is one of the most potent arguments for markets, whether in military service or in other domains.
Markets seem at least, under certain conditions, to enable people to make their own choices.
So justice as freedom or respecting individual choice is one conception that figured very prominently in the discussion.
There was a second idea that was raised in the discussion, too. Craig raised it in the name of efficiency. Others spoke about the effectiveness of the military and of the needs and of the security considerations. Would the soldiers run away? How would we screen them?
You might say those are practical questions, but they're not unrelated to questions of justice, because one conception of justice says that beyond respecting individual freedom and choice, justice is about promoting utility or the general welfare or the purposes that the institution is meant to serve. So this is, broadly speaking, a utilitarian idea—the appeal to efficiency considerations, the effectiveness of the fighting force, the need for national security.
So debates about justice have something to do with securing the general welfare or promoting utility.
Then there was a third idea, which was the idea of civic virtue or the duty of citizens—the one that drew the analogy between military service and jury duty, for example. The worry that outsourcing military service or letting the market allocate military service, even though that meant apparently giving greater scope to individual choice, somehow was in tension with the idea that all citizens have a duty to serve their country, whether in the military or in some form of universal national military service.
We didn't resolve once and for all the question of how to allocate military service. But the discussion we had about it did show that there are at least three strands to the debates we have, three different ways of thinking about justice: justice as utility, justice as respecting individual freedom, and justice as concerned somehow or other with promoting or expressing civic virtue, civic duty, and the common good. These three traditions of justice actually—this is one way of mapping the range of the traditions of justice that come from the history of political thought.
When we turn to other issues, many of the issues we debate today do have to do with the proper role of markets. We have been talking about outsourcing military service and the ethical questions it raises. Take an area very distant from military service, the use of markets in relation to family life—contracts for commercial surrogacy, paid pregnancy, which now has become a global business. We have debates about whether there should be markets in organs for transplantation. Should there be a global kidney market?
Similar arguments might arise, certainly from the standpoint of efficiency and utility, also from the standpoint of individual freedom. Now, the freedom school of justice contains two warring camps.
There are those who are pure laissez-faire, pro-market freedom advocates, who say any market choice is an expression of freedom.
There are others who say some market choices may not be all that free if people are desperately poor and don't really have a full range of life alternatives. Many of our debates are within those rival conceptions of freedom.
Civic virtue doesn't come up so much in debates about paid pregnancy or organ sales. But there are intrinsic arguments about how properly to regard or to value the human body, the human reproductive capacity, childbearing, childrearing, and so on. So the third tradition has broadly to do with engaging with the substantive moral goods at stake.
How does this bear in our public life generally? Our political debates these days are not going all that well. That won't be a surprise to anyone here. Most of what passes for political deliberation these days consists of shouting matches on cable television and ideological food fights on the floor of Congress. It's a hard question, why our political debate has fallen into this condition of basically hurling assertions rather than engaging with arguments.
I think one of the reasons for the impoverished political discourse that we have is that we don't do a very good job of engaging in the public square with the big ideas of justice, ethics, rights, freedom, civic virtue, and the common good that everybody does have a view about. But those big ideas are often lurking beneath the surface of the debates we have, and we're reluctant to engage directly with those big ethical questions, maybe because we're afraid it will lead to hopeless disagreement. We are a pluralist society, after all, and people have different views about those values.
But I think our public debate would go better, not worse, if we engaged more explicitly and directly with the big moral principles and questions of justice and civic virtue and even the good life that lie just beneath the surface of our political debates.
One way of aspiring to a society based on toleration, mutual respect, is to say we're going to avoid or set aside the moral disagreements we have in politics. But I think a better way to civil discourse is not to avoid, but to engage with and to listen to the moral convictions that people bring to public life, not because we will agree, if we have a more morally robust public debate, but because our disagreements will be better, richer, and truer to the animating principles that democratic citizens bring to politics.
So while the book is about justice, it's really, I think, about democratic citizenship. My suggestion and my hope is that by attending more directly with big questions of the kind that these philosophers thought and wrote about, about justice and rights and the common good, we will not come to agreement, but come to a better, richer democratic life and a more civil public discourse.
Thank you very much.