I’m busy writing a book defending public reason liberalism, which explains my blogging hiatus. J can blog and write books at the same time; that has proven hard for me.
So I’ll take a break from book writing to offer you a quick argument for the view I defend in the book. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is a true moral principle that requires religious toleration. This means that all religions should be tolerated insofar as is possible. So we shouldn’t tolerate honor killings or child sacrifices, but in general, we should permit as much religious freedom as we can. I think that’s a pretty plausible candidate for a true moral principle.
But, of course, if there is such a principle of religious toleration, it cannot be a foundational moral principle, since it is hard to see why a foundational moral principle would single-out religion and give it special authority over and above other belief systems. So if we should tolerate religion, we should tolerate non-religious practices and people who have rich, non-religious conceptions of the good. So there is a broader principle of what we might call doctrine toleration, where we tolerate both religious and secular doctrines about the good life.
I would go a step further and argue that, if there is a true principle of doctrine toleration, we should include conceptions of justice along with conceptions of the religious or secular good. If so, then there is a mind-independently true principle that requires structuring social and political institutions so that they are not only neutral between religions and secular conceptions of the good, but between conceptions of justice like libertarianism and social democracy. Some conceptions of justice are genuinely beyond the pale, such as conceptions that allow for child sacrifice, torture, racism, etc. But most conceptions of justice are not. And the principle of doctrine toleration applies to them.
Public reason liberalism is a specification of the principle of doctrine toleration. It states that state coercion must be justifiable to each suitably qualified point of view (ruling out really rotten and irrational stuff), which includes religious and secular conceptions of the good as well as different conceptions of justice. This means that if libertarians attempt to coercively impose libertarianism on non-libertarianism, they violate the principle of doctrine toleration. It doesn’t mean that libertarianism is the wrong conception of justice, just that there are ways of pushing libertarianism that violate the principle. The same goes for Catholics who attempt to coercively impose Catholicism on non-Catholics, they violate the principle of doctrine toleration. It doesn’t mean that Catholicism is the wrong religion, just that there are ways of pushing Catholicism that violate the principle.
Public reason liberalism is based on recognizing symmetry between our toleration of religion, non-religious doctrines, and conceptions of justice.
The best argument against the principle of doctrine toleration is that it is incoherent. There are no institutions that are neutral among non-wicked doctrines about the good and justice. In other words, there is no way to establish moral relations between persons with significantly different points of view about morality, justice, etc. All that is left for us is to push our views onto each other, rendering political life a kind of war between necessarily opposed groups. Our political life cannot be mediated by a principle of doctrine toleration where we respect one another by respecting each person’s normative perspective.
Obviously, there’s much more to say, and I’m happy to talk about it with kind commenters. My book is a possibility proof against this objection; I try to show that the set of institutions compatible with the principle of doctrine toleration is not empty. Hence the title: Must Politics Be War? And my answer: No.