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May 07, 2013

Catholicism and Liberalism: Raz or Rawls?

I apologize for light blogging of late, partly due to a lot of travel (including a wonderful visit to Scandinavia during the late winter) and administrative duties. A particular highlight was a visit to the Newman Institute for Catholic Studies at Uppsala in Sweden (English web site here), where the Jesuits are doing great work adjacent to the Swedish state university there. (The motto of the Institute is "Kan man tro på vetandet?," or "Can you believe in knowledge?"--a subtly Lonerganian tag.)

A few months ago, I participated in a panel on Cathy Kaveny's book Law's Virtues at the Brookings Institute moderated by Bill Galston and alongside EJ Dionne and Melissa Rogers from Brookings and Margaret Little from Georgetown's Kennedy Institute. The transcript of the event is here. As I noted in my remarks, while I like many of Cathy's moves in the book (emphasizing the pedagogical function of law and some detailed treatment of the ethics of voting, for example), I do have a deep reservation about the basic argument, namely that there is a convergence between Joseph Raz's account of autonomy and the concept of solidarity in Catholic social teaching. Razian autonomy and its attendant pluralism (according to which "incompatible forms of life are morally acceptable and they display distinct virtues, each capable of being pursued for its own sake," The Morality of Freedom, p. 396) are, it seems to me, difficult to square with Catholic views on the human good--or at least not without a great deal more by way of argument.

Indeed, I pointed out that there is a deep reservation from within liberalism on this matter. For that, I invoked Rawls--as interpreted by Martha Nussbaum in her paper "Perfectionist Liberalism and Political Liberalism (39 Philosophy and Public Affairs 3 (2011))--for the view that equal respect is, for this limited purpose, a preferable political, non-perfectionist alternative to Raz's view. As Nussbuam argues, Raz's view entails expressive subordination of those who reject his moral pluralism:

Expressive subordination is a form of religious establishment. The fact that Raz’s view is secular makes no difference to that conclusion. And it is wrong for the reason that religious establishment is always wrong: it offends against the equality of citizens. It tells them, to quote James Madison, that they do not all enter the public square “on equal conditions.” This conclusion apparently does not trouble Raz: if they do not accept the fact of pluralism and the ideal of autonomy, it is fine to treat them unequally. But it troubles me, as it troubled Larmore and Rawls. It is because many people think that Raz’s sort of comprehensive liberalism is the only viable form of liberalism that they also think that liberalism is not neutral about the good life, but is a form of religion in its own right. 35

Now, I'm not putting all of my bets in the end on either Razian autonomy or Rawlsian respect, but only making the point here that Rawls provides within the contours of liberal political theory a more adequate account and one more congenial (because so chaste in its aspirations) to some Catholic conceptions of politics.

The final question at the event came from Bill Galston, who (typically) asked the smartest question that went right to the heart of the issue:

GALSTON: Now, here's my question. And let me structure it in the following way. I'm going to address my question to Mike Moreland and after I've done that I'm going to invite Cathy to respond to his response. Then we'll see what happens.

KAVENY: That's like a pool shot.

GALSTON: A bank shot technically speaking. Okay. And back to this remarkable illegitimate offspring of Thomas Aquinas and John Locke, namely Joe Raz.

Now, you [Cathy] make an accurate and important point when you say Raz contends that the reason for protecting freedom stems not from the dearth of objective value but rather from a surfeit of such value. More specifically, he holds that the rationality for protecting freedom stems from the recognition there are a number of mutually incompatible but objectively worthwhile, morally worthwhile, ways of living one's life. All of which deserve protection precisely because they are objectively, morally worthwhile.

Now, as a student and devotee of Isaiah Berlin, I think I know where that comes from and I think I know where Raz got it. So, here's my question for Mike Moreland. From the Catholic standpoint as you understand it, what is the status of the proposition of morally worthwhile but mutually incompatible ways of life? Is that a proposition with which Catholic thought as you understand it is comfortable?

My answer at the end of the event was, to paraphrase, "no." But I'm grateful to Bill Galston, Cathy Kaveny, and the others at Brookings for the rich discussion.

Posted by Michael Moreland on May 7, 2013 at 04:55 PM in Moreland, Michael | Permalink


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