Tag Archives: Liberalism

“Rawls’s Political Liberalism” (Brooks & Nussbaum, eds.)

This May, Columbia University Press will release “Rawls’s Political Liberalism” edited by Thom Brooks (Durham University), and Martha Nussbaum (University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows:

Rawls's Political LiberalismWidely hailed as one of the most significant works in modern political philosophy, John Rawls’s Political Liberalism (1993) defended a powerful vision of society that respects reasonable ways of life, both religious and secular. These core values have never been more critical as anxiety grows over political and religious difference and new restrictions are placed on peaceful protest and individual expression.

This anthology of original essays suggests new, groundbreaking applications of Rawls’s work in multiple disciplines and contexts. Thom Brooks, Martha Nussbaum, Onora O’Neill (University of Cambridge), Paul Weithman (University of Notre Dame), Jeremy Waldron (New York University), and Frank Michelman (Harvard University) explore political liberalism’s relevance to the challenges of multiculturalism, the relationship between the state and religion, the struggle for political legitimacy, and the capabilities approach. Extending Rawls’s progressive thought to the fields of law, economics, and public reason, this book helps advance the project of a free society that thrives despite disagreements over religious and moral views.

Kittelstrom, “The Religion of Democracy”

This April, Penguin Press will release “The Religion of Democracy: Seven Liberals and the American Moral Tradition” by Amy Kittelstrom (Sonoma State University).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Religion of DemocracyToday we associate liberal thought and politics with secularism. When we argue over whether the nation’s founders meant to keep religion out of politics, the godless side is said to be liberal. But the role of religion in American politics has always been far more nuanced and complex than today’s debates would suggest and closer to the heart of American intellectual life than is commonly understood. American democracy was intended by its creators to be more than just a political system, and in The Religion of Democracy, historian Amy Kittelstrom shows how religion and democracy have worked together as universal ideals in American culture—and as guides to moral action and the social practice of treating one another as equals who deserve to be free.

The first people in the world to call themselves “liberals” were New England Christians in the early republic, for whom being liberal meant being receptive to a range of beliefs and values. The story begins in the mid-eighteenth century, when the first Boston liberals brought the Enlightenment into Reformation Christianity, tying equality and liberty to the human soul at the same moment these root concepts were being tied to democracy. The nineteenth century saw the development of a robust liberal intellectual culture in America, built on open-minded pursuit of truth and acceptance of human diversity. By the twentieth century, what had begun in Boston as a narrow, patrician democracy transformed into a religion of democracy in which the new liberals of modern America believed that where different viewpoints overlap, common truth is revealed. The core American principles of liberty and equality were never free from religion but full of religion.

The Religion of Democracy re-creates the liberal conversation from the eighteenth century to the twentieth by tracing the lived connections among seven thinkers through whom they knew, what they read and wrote, where they went, and how they expressed their opinions—from John Adams to William James to Jane Addams; from Boston to Chicago to Berkeley. Sweeping and ambitious, The Religion of Democracy is a lively narrative of quintessentially American ideas as they were forged, debated, and remade across our history.

Joppke, “The Secular State Under Siege”

This April, Wiley Publishing will release “The Secular State Under Siege: Religion and Politics in Europe and America” by Christian Joppke (University of Bern).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Secular State Under SiegeThroughout human history, religion and politics have entertained the most intimate of connections as systems of authority regulating individuals and society. While the two have come apart through the process of secularization, secularism is challenged today by the return of public religion. This cogent analysis unravels the nature of the connection, disconnection, and attempted reconnection between religion and politics in the West.

In a comparison of Western Europe and North America, Christianity and Islam, Joppke advances far-reaching theoretical, historical, and comparative-political arguments. With respect to theory, it is argued that only a “substantive” concept of religion, as pertaining to the existence of supra-human powers, opens up the possibility of a historical-comparative perspective on religion. At the level of history, secularization is shown to be the distinct outcome of Latin Christianity itself. And at the level of comparative politics, the Christian Right in America which has attacked the “wall of separation” between religion and state and Islam in Europe with the controversial insistence on sharia law and other “illiberal” claims from some quarters are taken to be counterpart incarnations of public religion and challenges to the secular state.

This clearly argued, sweeping book will provide an invaluable framework for approaching an array of critical issues at the intersection of religion, law and politics for advanced students and researchers across the social sciences and legal studies, as well as for the interested public.

Massad, “Islam in Liberalism”

This January, University of Chicago Press will release “Islam in Liberalism” by Joseph A. Massad (Columbia University).  The publisher’s description follows:

Islam in LiberalismIn the popular imagination, Islam is often associated with words like oppression, totalitarianism, intolerance, cruelty, misogyny, and homophobia, while its presumed antonyms are Christianity, the West, liberalism, individualism, freedom, citizenship, and democracy. In the most alarmist views, the West’s most cherished values—freedom, equality, and tolerance—are said to be endangered by Islam worldwide.

Joseph Massad’s Islam in Liberalism explores what Islam has become in today’s world, with full attention to the multiplication of its meanings and interpretations. He seeks to understand how anxieties about tyranny, intolerance, misogyny, and homophobia, seen in the politics of the Middle East, are projected onto Islam itself. Massad shows that through this projection, Europe emerges as democratic and tolerant, feminist, and pro-LGBT rights—or, in short, Islam-free. Massad documents the Christian and liberal idea that we should missionize democracy, women’s rights, sexual rights, tolerance, equality, and even therapies to cure Muslims of their un-European, un-Christian, and illiberal ways. Along the way he sheds light on a variety of controversial topics, including the meanings of democracy—and the ideological assumption that Islam is not compatible with it while Christianity is—women in Islam, sexuality and sexual freedom, and the idea of Abrahamic religions valorizing an interfaith agenda. Islam in Liberalism is an unflinching critique of Western assumptions and of the liberalism that Europe and Euro-America blindly present as a type of salvation to an assumingly unenlightened Islam.

“Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law” (available for pre-order)

Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal LawI am pleased to announce that Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law, edited by Markus D. Dubber, is now available for pre-order. I’ve listed the description of the volume below. As Markus explains in his introduction, the aim of the volume is to provide a set of comments (and in some cases, an introduction) to criminal texts that are canonical for the modern liberal state, but also that grew out of the modern liberal state. The collection begins with Hobbes and ends with the contemporary German theorist, Günther Jakobs. I was delighted to contribute the chapter on J.F. Stephen. The primary texts themselves can be accessed here.

Foundational Texts in Modern Criminal Law presents essays in which scholars from various countries and legal systems engage critically with formative texts in criminal legal thought since Hobbes. It examines the emergence of a transnational canon of criminal law by documenting its intellectual and disciplinary history and provides a snapshot of contemporary work on criminal law within that historical and comparative context.

Criminal law discourse has become, and will continue to become, more international and comparative, and in this sense global: the long-standing parochialism of criminal law scholarship and doctrine is giving way to a broad exploration of the foundations of modern criminal law. The present book advances this promising scholarly and doctrinal project by making available key texts, including several not previously available in English translation, from the common law and civil law traditions, accompanied by contributions from leading representatives of both systems.

Harding, “Charity Law and the Liberal State”

This October, Cambridge University Press will release “Charity Law and the Liberal State” by Matthew Harding (University of Melbourne).  The publisher’s description follows:

Charity Law and the Liberal StateCharity Law and the Liberal State considers questions relating to state action and public discourse that are raised by the law of charity. Informed by liberal philosophical commitments and of interest to both charity lawyers and political philosophers, it addresses themes and topics such as: the justifiability of the state’s non-neutral promotion of charitable purposes; the role of altruism in charity law; charity law, the tax system and the demands of distributive justice; the proper treatment of religious and political purposes in charity law; and the appropriate response of the liberal state to discrimination in the pursuit of charitable purposes.

Bilgrami, “Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment”

Next month, Harvard will publish Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment, by 9780674052048Akeel Bilgrami (Columbia University). The publisher’s description follows.

Bringing clarity to a subject clouded by polemic, Secularism, Identity, and Enchantment is a rigorous exploration of how secularism and identity emerged as concepts in different parts of the modern world. At a time when secularist and religious worldviews appear irreconcilable, Akeel Bilgrami strikes out on a path distinctly his own, criticizing secularist proponents and detractors, liberal universalists and multicultural relativists alike.

Those who ground secularism in arguments that aspire to universal reach, Bilgrami argues, fundamentally misunderstand the nature of politics. To those, by contrast, who regard secularism as a mere outgrowth of colonial domination, he offers the possibility of a more conceptually vernacular ground for political secularism. Focusing on the response to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, Bilgrami asks why Islamic identity has so often been a mobilizing force against liberalism, and he answers the question with diagnostic sympathy, providing a philosophical framework within which the Islamic tradition might overcome the resentments prompted by its colonized past and present.

Turning to Gandhi’s political and religious thought, Bilgrami ponders whether the increasing appeal of religion in many parts of the world reflects a growing disillusionment not with science but with an outlook of detachment around the rise of modern science and capitalism. He elaborates a notion of enchantment along metaphysical, ethical, and political lines with a view to finding in secular modernity a locus of meaning and value, while addressing squarely the anxiety that all such notions hark back nostalgically to a time that has past.

Conservative or Liberal? Take This Test

I greatly admire Jonathan Haidt’s work on moral psychology, particular his recent book, The Righteous Mind, on the differing moral intuitions of conservatives and liberals. So I was intrigued by a recent test Haidt published in Time–a series of questions that, Haidt says, predict where one falls on the political spectrum. The questions don’t relate to politics directly. They relate more to values (“Should kids be taught to respect authority?”, “Is self-control or self-expression more important?”) and lifestyle (“Do you like fusion cuisine?”)–what we might think of as culture. None of the questions relates to religion as such, though, to my mind, there are obvious overlaps. Also, none of the questions relates to economics; Haidt’s point, which seems right to me, is that politics remains largely a matter of moral intuition.

Anyway, I don’t want to say too much about the test and ruin it. Go ahead and answer the questions. For what it’s worth, they predicted my political leanings quite well. (H/T: Rod Dreher).

Ahdar & Leigh, “Religious Freedom in the Liberal State”

This week, Oxford University Press publishes a new edition of Religious Freedom in the Liberal State, by Rex Ahdar (Otago) and Ian Leigh (Durham). The publisher’s description follows:

Examining the law and public policy relating to religious liberty in Western liberal democracies, this book contains a detailed analysis of the history, rationale, scope, and limits of religious freedom from (but not restricted to) an evangelical Christian perspective. Focussing on United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and EU, it studies the interaction between law and religion at several different levels, looking at the key debates that have arisen.

Divided into three parts, the book begins by contrasting the liberal and Christian rationales for and understandings of religious freedom. It then explores central thematic issues: the types of constitutional frameworks within which any right to religious exercise must operate; the varieties of paradigmatic relationships between organized religion and the state; the meaning of ‘religion'; the limitations upon individual and institutional religious behaviour; and the domestic and international legal mechanisms that have evolved to address religious conduct. The final part explores key subject areas where current religious freedom controversies have arisen: employment; education; parental rights and childrearing; controls on pro-religious and anti-religious expression; medical treatment; and religious group (church) autonomy.

This new edition is fully updated with the growing case law in the area, and features increased coverage of Islam and the flashpoint debates surrounding the accommodation of Muslim beliefs and practices in Anglophone nations.

Gay Wedding Cakes and Liberalism

Over the past several years, there have been a number of reported incidents in the U.S. where a bakery has refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex wedding. In the latest case, a bakery in Gresham, Oregon refused to bake a cake for a wedding between two women, citing religious objections.  One of the aggrieved fiancées has filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office, which is now investigating whether the bakery violated an Oregon statute prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations.

This incident illustrates a wider phenomenon—unwillingness to pursue liberal values when it comes to the politics of sexual orientation.  By liberalism, I mean the strain of European political philosophy that arose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries partly as a reaction to the devastating religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth century, most particularly the Thirty Years’ War that killed eight million people in central Europe.  Liberals like John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, and John Stuart Mill stressed individual rights, limited government, and freedoms of speech, press, religion, contract, and property as antidotes to such bloodshed.  They aimed to allow people with fundamentally different world views to contribute jointly to the projects of government, order, and civil society with minimum friction.  Liberalism is the philosophy at the heart of the enduring American constitutional order.

Alas, liberalism is losing out in the culture wars.  The gay wedding cakes battles are representative of a wider disease that infects people in both camps—invoking the power of government to endorse and enforce one’s world view on matters of sexuality and identity.  Rather than just saying, “I’ll take my business elsewhere,” the impulse is to call the attorney general’s office in support of one’s position, as though law and politics were the appropriate fora for deciding the morality of sexual identity and practice.

The predominant forces in both camps are pushing anti-liberal agendas.  In 2004, the Virginia Legislature passed a statute invalidating private contracts between gay people if they replicated the incidences of marriage.  Conservatives continue to resist political settlements on same-sex marriage that would shift marriage decisions from the state to individuals and private communities.  On the other side, progressives are fighting to enshrine their views in marriage and antidiscrimination laws and school curricula.  In the Chik-fil-A flap last summer, progressive politicians around the country threatened zoning prohibitions or other deployments of state power to fight the forces of “hatred and intolerance.”

Where are the liberals?  Where are the people willing to say: “As much as possible, let’s not decide these questions in the arena of the state.  Let’s let them play out in families, churches, religious communities, social networks, friendships, businesses, and private associations.  Let’s resist the impulse to make these kinds of divisive moral and religious questions political questions.  Let’s not fight another Thirty Years’ War.”

Let me try to preempt some likely objections with two concluding observations.

First, a liberal disposition cannot be confined to circumstances where one disapproves of someone else’s conduct but it causes no harm to others—because that’s an empty set.  It’s child’s play for lawyers, philosophers, and economists  to demonstrate that almost anything one person does affects other people.  When the baker refuses to make the wedding cake, it imposes real distress, humiliation, and inconvenience on the person requesting the cake.  Conversely, having to make the cake would impose real offense and moral indignity on the baker.  Liberalism doesn’t depend on a view that one of the parties really isn’t hurt, any more than free speech depends on a view that words can never be hurtful.  Liberalism is a disposition that says “the state must let pass these sorts of harm—they do not rise to the level of force and fraud where state intervention is justified.”

Second, to espouse liberalism isn’t to pretend that the state never has to make political judgments on issues of sexual orientation.  Since the state runs the military, it must decide whether gay people can serve in the armed forces.  Since the state regulates adoptions, it must decide whether gay people can adopt.  And there are of course other examples.  But the fact that it is sometimes unavoidable for the state to wade into these thorny issues does not justify the state wading in when it doesn’t have to.  The great project of liberalism is to strive continually for resolutions that don’t involve the state deciding divisive issues of  meaning and morality that require choosing between contending world views.  This isn’t always possible, but it’s possible much more of the time than it happens.

Calling all liberals . . .