esposito's box
Friday, March 25, 2005
  "Reasonable Doctrines"
This post got me thinking. I think Marianne's delineation of conservatism and liberalism teases out interesting ideas. However, I think she may be too quick to equate the evangelism of the religious right with the arbiters of enlightenment values. Extrapolated out, a state committed to theocratic principles would be just as liberal as a state committed to liberal democratic principles. Rawl's Political Liberalism sees the same problems she suggests:

"A continuing shared understanding on ONE (my emphasis) comprehensive religious, philosophical, or moral doctrine can be maintained only by the oppressive use of state power....In the society of the Middle Ages, more or less united in affirming the Catholic faith, the Inquisition was not an accident; its suppression of heresy was needed to preserve that shared religious belief....A society united on a reasonable form of utilitarianism, or on the reasonable liberalisms of Kant or Mill, would likewise require the sanctions of state power to remain so. Call this 'the fact of oppression'" (Rawls Political Liberalism 1996, 37).

While my own experience cannot fathom a Kantian or Millian society as "oppressive" as that of the Spanish Inquisition, one can understand how a singular "comprehensive doctrine" would be especially oppressive to one who agrees with goals of the Inquisition. It would be, as Marianne suggests, mutually exclusive.

However, the foundation of the Political Liberalism which Rawls puts forth derives from Kantian tradition. And in it, reasonable pluralism demands concessions. As Rawls writes,

"A society can be well-ordered by a political conception of justice so long as, first, citizens who affirm reasonable but opposing comprehensive doctrines belong to an overlapping consensus: that is, they generally endorse that conception of justice as giving the content of their political judgments on basic institutions; and second, unreasonable comprehensive doctrines (these, we assume, always exist) do not gain enough currency to undermine society's essential justice" (Political Liberalism1996, 38-9).

We need to distinguish between "reasonable" and "unreasonable comprehensive doctrines" in order to assess Marianne's redefined liberal/conservative dichotomy. If religious rightists agree to seek their ends by making appeals within the institutions of our system, then, even if we disagree, we recognize their method as reasonable. If, on the other hand, they justify their demands based on divine will, and in the meantime subvert the institutions of liberal democracy and its conceptions of justice, then we can reject their method as unreasonable.

Ultimately, while the same requirements apply to those of us who wish to "finish the Enlightenment project," it seems to me less of a problem for our comprehensive doctrine to be reasonable. This very method of public reason is illustrated by Marianne's post where she examines her own motivations based on liberal values. Until conservative evangelicals make en masse the same kind of self-reflection Marianne does, the varieties of "conservatism" are not equal: one form is "reasonable," and the other "unreasonable."
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