Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.UK House Prices BrExit Crash NOT Likely Despite London Property Market Weakness - Nadeem_Walayat
2.BrExit Morning - New Dawn for Britain, Independence Day! - Nadeem_Walayat
3.LEAVE Wins EU Referendum - Sterling and FTSE Hit Hard, Pollsters, Bookies and Markets All WRONG! - Nadeem_Walayat
4.BrExit Implications for UK Stock Market, Sterling GBP, House Prices and UK Politics... - Nadeem_Walayat
5.Trading BrExit - Stocks, Bonds, Sterling, Opinion Polls, Bookmaker Odds and My Forecast - Nadeem_Walayat
6.FTSE and Sterling Brexit Trading, Deconstruction of the EU Referendum Result - Nadeem_Walayat
7.UK Interest Rate Cut to 0.25% Imminent and More QE Money Printing - Nadeem_Walayat
8.Trading BrExit - British Pound Plunges, FTSE Stock Futures Slump on LEAVE Shock Referendum Win - Nadeem_Walayat
9.The Stock Market is Reading it Wrong! - Chris_Vermeulen
10.Breakouts Galore in Gold and Silver - Jordan_Roy_Byrne
Free Silver
Last 7 days
On the Italian and Eurozone Doomsday Scenario - 27th July 16
Japan's "Helicopter Money" Play: Road to Hyperinflation or Cure Debt Deflation? - 27th July 16
Monetary Zika - The Insidious Nature of Credit Expansion - 27th July 16
Gold and Pork Bellies - 27th July 16
Silver Is Insurance Against The Worst Part Of This Depression - 27th July 16
Don’t Buy The SPX Hope Stock Market Rally! - 27th July 16
Bitcoin $650 Still in Play - 26th July 16
Deutche Bank Stock Price Crash - The EU Has Problems Far Beyond the Brexit - 26th July 16
The Forex Markets Are Getting Exciting! - 26th July 16
Underpriced Silver Is the “Rip Van Winkle” Metal - 25th July 16
Declines in Multiple Market Indexes - 25th July 16
Retailers Are Doomed as Most Americans Are Too Poor to Shop - 25th July 16
Here’s One Currency That Could Go to Zero - 25th July 16
Stock Market Top is Expanding - 25th July 16
Silver Manipulation – Because They Needed the Eggs - 25th July 16
Silver Market COT Stuns: What's Going On Here? - 24th July 16
Gold Demand Remains Stable During Sector Weakness - 24th July 16
Sernova, Diabetes and Haemophilia - 24th July 16
Russia: Tensions, Turmoil, and Western Hubris - 24th July 16
Soybean Commodity Price to Soar Again - 23rd July 16
SPX Stock Market Uptrend Continues - 23rd July 16
Gold And Silver – Debt Addiction Will Carry Precious Metals Higher, Guaranteed - 23rd July 16
Pokemon Go - How to Play, First Use, Balls, Stops, Catching Pokemon's... Great Excercise! - 23rd July 16
7 Signs That the Gold Market Remains Resilient - 23rd July 16
Basic Income in The Time of Crisis - 23rd July 16
Silver Bull Faces Correction - 22nd July 16
The Serious Warning No One’s Talking About - 22nd July 16
Stock Market Insight from Greed, Volatility, and Put/Call Ratio - 22nd July 16
What Will Happen To the Stock Market When Interest Rates Rise? - 22nd July 16
How to Escape the World’s Biggest Ponzi Scheme - 22nd July 16
Addicted to Debt - We Can’t Borrow from the Future Anymore - 21st July 16
Not Everything Is Bullish for Gold - 21st July 16
Don’t Get Sucked Back Into the Stock Market - The Big Picture Hasn’t Changed - 21st July 16
Silver – Caught Inside - 21st July 16
Forex: "The Markets Are Getting Exciting!" - 20th July 16
China Economic Troubles - Is Kyle Bass Finally Getting His Revenge? - 20th July 16
Why Lithium Will See Another Price Spike This Fall - 20th July 16

Free Instant Analysis

Free Instant Technical Analysis


Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

The Power of the Wave Principle

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