Martha Nussbaum on Striving for Justice in a Multicultural Society on WNYC's 'The Takeaway'

Striving for Justice in a Multicultural Society
The Takeaway
May 3, 2013

As Janice Kelsey, a member of the Birmingham, Alabama Children's Crusade, tells it, the modern Civil Rights Movement tried to address one of America’s most significant challenges: creating a justice system that addresses the needs of a multicultural society.

Today, as David Miller, professor of political theory at the University of Oxford and author of "Justice for Earthlings," explains, in countries across the globe, communities with very different cultural backgrounds are still trying to reconcile lofty ideals of universal justice with the tensions of tradition. And while the problem of justice in multicultural societies may seem like a very modern issue, Martha Nussbaum, professor of law and ethics at the University of Chicago Law School, explores the original concepts of these ideas, all the way back in ancient Athens.

Those ancient ideals inspired the Americans conceptions of justice, Nussbaum explains. While early Americans tried to create an inclusive system of justice, "There was a real risk in the early nineteenth century that things would fall apart, and then of course they did fall apart in the Civil War," she says. "And so...whether the polity would hold together was, for a long time, a really burning question.

"Now, what's interesting is, I think many people...think that the decision in Bush v. Gore was not very well done, and maybe in that sense Gore was elected," she says. And yet, Nussbaum continues, "No one thought there should be a revolution, or an upheaval around that. They accepted the word of the court, even though they didn't think the justices had done a very good job."

Martha C. Nussbaum