Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.UK General Election Exit Polls Forecast Accuracy - Nadeem_Walayat
2.What's Next for the Gold Price? - Axel_Merk
3.UK House Prices Correctly Forecast / Predicted Conservative Election Win 2015 - Nadeem_Walayat
4.15 Hours to Save England from SNP Scottish Nationalist Dictatorship - Election 2015 - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Exit Poll Forecasts Conservative UK Election 2015 Win - Nadeem_Walayat
6.Gold And Silver China’s Pivotal Role: More Questions Than Answers. Not So For Charts - Michael_Noonan
7.Conservative Win 2015 UK General Election, BBC Forecast of 329 Seats - Nadeem_Walayat
8.Investing and the Lollapalooza Effect - Niels C. Jensen
9.Gold Price Target - Rambus_Chartology
10.Gold Price Nearing An Important Pivot Point - GoldSilverWorlds
Last 5 days
Stock Market SPX Uptrend Inflection Point - 23rd May 15
What You Know for Certain - Huge Demand for Gold And Silver - 23rd May 15
Are We in Another Credit Bubble? And Is It Different than Before? - 23rd May 15
The “Real Flash Crash” Will Scare You to Death - 23rd May 15
Venezuela: No Rule of Law, Bad Money - 23rd May 15
Robots That Can Beat the Market by 100% - 23rd May 15
Why Shake Shack Stock Is a Bad Investment - 23rd May 15
Gold Price Primary Driver Bullish - 23rd May 15
Time To Get Real About China - 22nd May 15
Gold Lifeboat to Global Economies “Titanic Problem” Warn HSBC - 22nd May 15
One Investment Could Save Two Generations' Retirements - 22nd May 15
Investing is About Identifying Gifted and Talented Camps - 22nd May 15
One of Europe's Latest Debt Nightmares - 22nd May 15
UK Immigration Crisis Could Prompt BREXIT, Propelling Britain Out of EU Despite German Factor - 22nd May 15
America Superpower 2016 - 21st May 15
Stock Market Secular Versus Cyclical Investing - 21st May 15
Banking Stocks Break Out with Higher Bond Yields - 21st May 15
The Tech Portfolio Built to Beat the Market - 21st May 15
Gold “Less Sexy” Than Bitcoin … For Now - GoldCore on CNBC - 21st May 15
The Russia-West Rivalry in the Balkans - 21st May 15
The US Dollar and the Precious Metals Complex - 21st May 15
Gold GLD ETF Drawdown Continues Unabated - 21st May 15
Who’s Killing the Stock Market? - 21st May 15
Your Best Way to Profit from the Narrowest Market in 20 Years - 21st May 15
Government Regulation and Economic Stagnation - 20th May 15
It’s Time to Hold More Cash and Buy Gold - 20th May 15
Choppy Asian Stock Markets - 20th May 15
Countdown to Global Financial Collapse - 20th May 15
Will Interest Rates Ever Rise? - 20th May 15
How to Cash in on Amazon Stock’s Amazing Cloud Success - 20th May 15
Three Hidden Forces Pushing Crude Oil Price Back Up - 20th May 15
U.S. Housing Market Strong Numbers in Perspective - 20th May 15
Greece Debt Crisis - Obama Has A Big Fat Greek Finger - 20th May 15
Now Is the Time to Own the Oil & Gas Leaders - 20th May 15
UK Deflation Warning - Bank of England Economic Propaganda to Print and Inflate Debt - 20th May 15
Trading Gold and Silver along with the Pros - 19th May 15
Gold Ticks Higher as London Housing Market Crash Looms? - 19th May 15
Global Stock Market, Commodities Group Analysis - 19th May 15
How Stock Investors Could Profit from the Dark Net Pattern That Few Others See - 19th May 15
The Patriot Act is now USA Freedom Act - 19th May 15
Investing in Europe? 5 Critical Insights to Boost Your Portfolio Now - 19th May 15
Gold Price Trend Forecast - 19th May 15
Stock Market Continues Defying Gravity, Dow New All Time High - 19th May 15
Are Gold and Interest Rates About To Take Off Higher? - 18th May 15
Nikkei Japanese Stock Index Set To Get Smashed - 18th May 15
Silver Price Projections For 2020 - 18th May 15
The IMF Leaks Greece, Institutions Forcing a Debt Default - 18th May 15
Europe's Stocks Bull Market Continues After Correction - 18th May 15
European Banks Vulnerable Today As 2008 Financial Crisis - 18th May 15
Payments, Currencies, and Broken Money - 18th May 15
Learning to Trade Markets - Dealing with Losing Trades - 18th May 15
Stock Market Sell in May and Go Away - Last Hurrah - Take2 - 18th May 15
The No. 1 Reason Stocks Will Climb Higher - 17th May 15
Gold, Silver Distorted Markets, Financial Sophistry, and Moral Hazard - 17th May 15
Stock Market CAC40 Trend Forecast - 17th May 15
Stock Market Diagonal Pattern Nearly Complete - 16th May 15
Gold And Silver - Elite's Game Of Jenga In Place. Your Move - 16th May 15
You’ll Never See a Better Moment to Invest in China - 16th May 15
Are Gold and Silver Stocks Breaking Out? - 16th May 15
War On Cash - Why the IRS Seized All the Money from a Country Store - 16th May 15
Is China Economy a Fire-Breathing Dragon or a Dragon on Fire? - 16th May 15
Silver Buying Only Starting - 16th May 15
Why Opinion Pollsters Got UK Election 2015 Badly Wrong - 15th May 15
Double Black Diamond - What a Bond Bear Market Looks Like - 15th May 15
This “Bubble” Is Set to Kick Off New Energy Profits - 15th May 15
German Gold Demand "Spikes"- Investment Demand Surges 63% - 15th May 15
How GDP Metrics Distort Our View of the Economy - 15th May 15
McDonald's Future Is Hard to Digest (NYSE: MCD) - 15th May 15
Dry Bulk Shipping Index Chart Analysis Update 2015 - 15th May 15
Economic Expansion Ahead? World Stock Markets Analysis - 15th May 15
Why Not Tell Greece How To Run A Democracy? - 15th May 15

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis


Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

Biggest Debt Bomb in History

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.


© 2005-2015 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

Biggest Debt Bomb in History