Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.US Dollar Crashes, Gold And Bitcoin Skyrocket As Economic Recovery Lie Is Exposed - Jeff_Berwick
2.Now Obama Warns Americans to ‘Be Prepared’ for Disaster… What Does He Know? - Jeff_Berwick
3.EU Referendum - Britain's Immigration / Migrant Crisis Explained - Nadeem_Walayat
4.EU Referendum - British People vs Establishment Elite, Vote LEAVE an Act of Defiance! - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Prominent Billionaire Investors Warn of Financial Crash, Quietly Position Themselves - MoneyMetals
6.Bankers Warn of BrExit Financial Armageddon if British People Vote for Freedom - Nadeem_Walayat
7.Bad U.S. Jobs Report Prompts Stocks Bear Market Rally Towards New All Time Highs! - Nadeem_Walayat
8.Gold And Silver – Friday May Have Marked A Pivotal Turnaround - Michael_Noonan
9.EU Referendum - British People vs Establishment Elite, the Illusion of Democracy and Freedom - Nadeem_Walayat
10.Felix Zulauf: Monetary Stimulation Creates Bubbles, Not Prosperity Nor Growth - GoldandLiberty
Free Silver
Last 7 days
Investors Map Post-Brexit Strategies Amid Global Market Upheaval - 26th June 16
Gold Price Weekly COT Update - 26th June 16
First the UK, then Scotland ... then Texas? - 26th June 16
Stocks Bear Market Resumes or Just More Noise - 26th June 16
Gold And Silver: Security, And BREXIT - 25th June 16
Dow, Euro & Brexit Recap - 25th June 16
Resistance Holding Gold Stocks after Brexit - 25th June 16
Venezuela vs. Ecuador (Chavismo vs. Chavismo Dollarized) - 25th June 16
Gold, Silver And PM Stocks Summer Doldrums Risk - 24th June 16
Here’s Why China “Economic Hard-Landing” Worries Are Overblown - 24th June 16
Jubilee Jolt: Markets Crash, Gold Skyrockets as Britain Takes Brexit - 24th June 16
BrExit Morning - New Dawn for Britain, Independence Day! - 24th June 16
LEAVE Wins EU Referendum - Sterling and FTSE Hit Hard, Pollsters, Bookies and Markets All WRONG! - 24th June 16
Trading BrExit - British Pound Plunges, FTSE Stock Futures Slump on LEAVE Shock Referendum Win - 24th June 16
EU Referendum Shock Results Putting BrExit LEAVE in the Lead Hitting Sterling Hard - 24th June 16
Final Opinion Poll Gives REMAIN 52% Lead, Bookmakers, Markets and Pollsters ALL Back REMAIN Win - 23rd June 16
Does BREXIT Matter? Outlook for Sterling - 23rd June 16
Keep Calm and Vote BrExit - Last Chance to Break Free of EU Superstate - 23rd June 16
Here’s the Foreign Policy Trump and Clinton Really Want - 23rd June 16
Details Behind Semiconductor Stocks Leadership - 23rd June 16
Trading BrExit - Stocks, Bonds, Sterling, Opinion Polls, Bookmaker Odds and My Forecast - 23rd June 16
BrExit Looks Set to Win EU Referendum, Final Opinion Polls Give LEAVE Lead Over REMAIN - 22nd June 16
Proof that the Gold Bears are Wrong - 22nd June 16
Here’s a Trillion-Dollar Investment Opportunity for Those Few with No Debt - 22nd June 16
BrExit to Save Europe from Climate Change Refugee Migration Apocalypse - 22nd June 16
Increase In U.S. Rig Count Will Not Cap Oil Prices - 22nd June 16
Are Copper and China Stocks Set to Rally? - 22nd June 16
SPX May Break Its Trendline - 22nd June 16
Believe it or Not: More Kids Live At Home Now than Since The Great Depression - 21st June 16
EU Referendum Latest Opinion Polls Show LEAVE Halting REMAINs Surge - 21st June 16
British Pound Outlook - BREXIT, Europe and You - Does your vote matter? - 21st June 16
Fascist Victory Behind the European Union - 21st June 16
EU Referendum Opinion Polls Analysis Shows Strong Momentum in REMAINs Favour - 21st June 16
Is It Time to Dump Gold and Buy Platinum? - 21st June 16
Could Central Bankers Be Gold and Silver's BIGGEST Allies? - 20th June 16
Words Still Mean Things – Brexit With Graham Mehl - 20th June 16
Baroness Warsi the Manchurian Candidate Quits LEAVE for REMAIN, Boris Johnson Next? - 20th June 16
FTSE Soars, Stock Markets Bounce on LEAVE Polls Surge, Bookmakers Widen BrExit Odds - 20th June 16
Brexit Would Trigger Devolution of Europe - 20th June 16
Stock Market Week Of Uncertainty - 20th June 16
Will Gold’s Bullish Price Chart Outperform Gold’s 5 Bearish Indicators? - 20th June 16
Bonds And Stocks At All-Time Highs: Are Markets Confused Or Broken? - 20th June 16
Silver Sleeping On the Job - 19th June 16
BrExit Odds Sink, REMAIN Polls Boost by Jo Cox Killing by Radical Right Extremist, Conspiracy? - 19th June 16
How Elliott Waves Tell You When to "Jump In" & When to "Jump Out" of Markets - 18th June 16
Stock Market Inflection Point During Bifurcation - 18th June 16
Gold And Silver – Insanity Is World “Norm.” Keep Stacking! - 18th June 16
Gold Stocks - Bull Markets that Follow Epic Bears - 18th June 16
The Fed Giveth and the Gold Bullion Banks Taketh Away… - 17th June 16
Brexit: "The Vote Heard Around the World" - 17th June 16
Gold Stocks Summer Breakout? - 17th June 16
Stock Investors Get Higher Returns and More Dividend Income - In Less Time With Less Risk - 17th June 16
How to Use the Gold-to-Silver Ratio? - 17th June 16
Inflation, Deflation & Associated Trading Prospects - 17th June 16
Overnight Markets Struggling to Stay Flat - 17th June 16
Gold Price Surges to Highest in Nearly Two Years On Central Bank and Brexit Haven Demand - 17th June 16
Stock Market Thinking Upside Down; Dow 18k Still Key - 17th June 16
Jo Cox MP Terror Attack Killing Claimed for "Britain First" - Witness Report - 17th June 16
Stock Market, Iron Ore, Bitcoin – Is Silver Next for Chinese Momentum Investors? - 16th June 16
EU Referendum Campaigning Suspended Following Shooting of MP Jo Cox, Suspect Named as Tommy Mair - 16th June 16
Why People are Migrating to the UK, Illegal Immigration, Housing Crisis Consequences - 16th June 16
Stocks Fluctuate Following Recent Decline - Bottom Or Just Pause Before Another Leg Down? - 16th June 16
The US Consumer-Driven Economy Has Hit a Brick Wall - 16th June 16
Bitcoin Price Going Parabolic Again, Now At $730 and Up 60%+ In Last Three Weeks - 16th June 16
China's Hard Landing Has Already Begun! - 16th June 16
Crude Oil Price - Oil Bears vs. Support Zone - 16th June 16

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis


Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Why 95% of Traders Fail

Understanding Liberal Democracy

Politics / Social Issues Nov 22, 2012 - 10:10 AM GMT

By: David_Gordon

Politics

Most contemporary political philosophers, unfortunately, are not libertarians. Nicholas Wolterstorff, best known as a founder of "reformed epistemology" but a philosopher of extraordinary range, is no libertarian either — far from it. In the present collection of essays, though, he assails a vastly influential school of thought in a way that libertarians will find useful.


Ever since John Rawls published Political Liberalism in 1993, political philosophers have focused on "public reason." This notion responds to a feature of contemporary politics difficult to deny: we have already drawn attention to it. In contemporary democracies, people disagree radically about what should be done politically. They operate from different philosophies, from what Rawls calls "comprehensive doctrines"; they have different "conceptions of the good." Some people are religious and look to what they take to be God's guidance on, e.g., abortion and same-sex marriage; others are atheists and want no part of alleged divine revelations. Some people think the state should mold people's characters to promote virtue; others say this is none of the state's business.

Faced with conflicts like this, what should be done? One alternative is that the supporters of a particular comprehensive doctrine should attempt to secure a majority for its views. Once they do that, they can ram through their program, regardless of the objections that come from those with other comprehensive doctrines. If you can convince most people that abortion is wrong, then you are free to pass laws that ban it.

Rawls and other supporters of public reason like Robert Audi disagree. They say that to act in the way just described is coercive and fails to show respect for those who hold different conceptions of the good.

Most if not all exclusivists [advocates of public reason] … say something to the effect that respect for one's fellow citizens as free and equal requires that, before supporting a piece of proposed legislation, one offer or make available, to those one believes do not already have them, reasons for the legislation that they will or would regard as good ones … [an] alternative focuses on coercion. It is the coerciveness of legislation that makes reasons of the sort indicated required. A condition of a citizen's properly supporting a piece of coercive legislation is … [that] one must offer or make available, to those one believes do not already have them, reasons that they do or would regard as justifying the coercive legislation. (pp. 12–3, emphasis in original)

In brief, you should put aside your own opinions about the good when you are dealing — as you inevitably must in a contemporary democracy like that of the United States — with those with conflicting opinions. Instead, you should confine yourself to arguments that others can accept as reasons. For example, if you oppose easy divorce because you think this practice contravenes what the Bible teaches about marriage, you should not rely on this view in debates about public legislation. People who reject belief in God will not regard the Bible's claims as a reason for action at all. If you appeal exclusively to the Bible, you will be manifesting lack of respect for them and endeavoring to coerce them.[1]

It is easy to see why Wolterstorff would not like public reason. As already suggested, religious views have no place in public reason, though they are not the only sort of excluded views. This cannot sit well with Wolterstorff, who is a devout Christian and thinks that his religion is very much relevant to politics. He accordingly launches a counterattack: public reason shows much less respect for people than its advocates claim for it; and the view has consequences that are themselves coercive. His powerful arguments should interest libertarians because they weaken the appeal of one of libertarianism's main rivals in political philosophy.

Wolterstorff notes that defenders of public reason do not in fact show respect for everyone's comprehensive doctrine. It is only those deemed "reasonable" who have to be taken into account. If you hold a comprehensive doctrine that is not "reasonable," then you are excluded: it is not necessary, in public argument, to offer you a reason that you would find acceptable.

Of course, the question arises, just what is a reasonable comprehensive doctrine, on this conception? It transpires that in essence it is one that accepts public reason. If you want to impose your comprehensive doctrine regardless of the opinions of those who reject it, you aren't reasonable. Public reason is thus respectful and non-coercive — to those who accept its tenets. Those outside the "legitimation pool" of these accepters do not count.

All public reason liberals first declare that citizens of certain sorts are irrelevant to determining the permissibility of advocating in public and voting for some piece of legislation.… Rawls famously sets off to the side those who are not "reasonable," these being those who do not endorse "the underlying ideas of citizens as free and equal persons and of society as a fair system of cooperation over time." For those whose comprehensive doctrine leads them to be unreasonable in this way, Rawls declares that that doctrine is itself unreasonable. About such doctrines and those who hold them Rawls says that "Within political liberalism, nothing more need be said." (p. 81, quoting Rawls)

Even for the favored few who make it into the legitimation pool, it is by no means always the case that they must be given reasons for laws that they in fact accept.

No public reason liberal holds that, having excluded certain sorts of citizens from the legitimation pool, we can now say that a condition of its being acceptable to advocate and vote for some proposed piece of legislation is that one judges that everyone who remains in the pool has a good and decisive reason … for believing that the legislation would be a good thing. There never is that degree of agreement; we can say in confidence that there never will be. It's for this reason that public reason liberals all resort to speaking of what those in the legitimation pool would believe. (pp. 83–4)

In other words, if some people reject a law you propose, you assume that they would accept it, or at least think it reasonable, if they were better informed or thought about the issues more clearly. Is this not, Wolterstorff asks, a remarkably condescending view to take of one's fellow citizens?[2]

If Wolterstorff rejects public reason, what has he to put in its place? He proposes "the equal right of citizens to full political voice" (p. 113). In this conception of liberal democracy, people may advocate[3] laws for whatever reasons seem to them suitable; they are not bound by the restraints of public reason. If you have had a fair chance to state your case to the public, but the vote goes against you, then you have not been treated unfairly.

But what about the problems to which public reason theorists have pointed? What if the majority passes laws that seem to you to lack reason altogether? Must you accept these laws, simply because the majority backs them? Has Wolterstorff rejected public reason as not genuinely respectful of others, only to subject everyone to dominance by the majority of voters?

Wolterstorff is fully aware of this problem. He responds that majority rule, in his conception of equal political voice, is not untrammeled. Laws cannot violate people's rights.

I [Wolterstorff] hold that it is not public reason and the Rawlsian duty of civility that lie at the heart of liberal democracy but the equal right to full political voice, this voice to be exercised within constitutional limits on the powers of government and within legal limits on the infringement by citizens on the rights of their fellow citizens to freely exercise their full political voice. (p. 125)

What are these rights that limit the majority? Wolterstorff does not offer a list of them, though it is safe to say that they include the "standard" list of civil liberties, such as freedom of the press and of religion. But what if, as libertarians think, these rights extend further — to include natural rights to property? What if they leave no scope at all for further public deliberation, except perhaps on details? Wolterstorff assumes without considering alternative arrangements that the key task of political philosophy today is to arrive at an acceptable account of liberal democracy. Libertarians will not be satisfied; but we can be grateful to Wolterstorff for his careful analysis of public reason.[4]

David Gordon covers new books in economics, politics, philosophy, and law for The Mises Review, the quarterly review of literature in the social sciences, published since 1995 by the Mises Institute. He is author of The Essential Rothbard, available in the Mises Store. Send him mail. See his article archives. Comment on the blog.

[Understanding Liberal Democracy: Essays in Political Philosophy • By Nicholas Wolterstorff • Edited by Terence Cuneo • Oxford University Press, 2012 • Xii+ 385 pages]

© 2012 Copyright Ludwig von Mises - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.


© 2005-2016 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Catching a Falling Financial Knife