Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Palgrave Manuscript

Tonight I finished my new manuscript entitled Justice, Democracy and Reasonable Agreement. This book is something I have been working on, in one form or another, for 10 years. So packaging the final copies of the manuscript in a thick envelope and sending it off to the publisher (Palgrave MacMillan) today felt very satisfying.

I have posted a few blogs on themes from the book already. Like my post on four fundamental convictions, what is political theory?, the rise of deliberative democracy, ideal theory, the personal is political, and libertarianism and rectification. Those posts should give you a sense of the kinds of concerns that motivated me to write the book. (A sample from the book itself is available here)

The book is a plea for political philosophers to take non-ideal constraints (like scarcity, pervasive disadvantage, indeterminacy, fallibility, disagreement, etc.) seriously. By doing so we can better bridge the gap between theory and practice.

I have two central aims in the book. The first, primarily negative aim, is to put some dents in the principled paradigm of ideal theory. I cast a pretty wide net in terms of the theories I critique- liberal egalitarianism (especially Rawls and Dworkin) and left (Van Parijs and Otsuka) and right (Nozick) variants of libertarianism.

The second, positive, aim of the book is to outline and defend a rival theoretical framework- a virtue-oriented theory called 'civic liberalism'. Civic liberalism focuses on three central civic virtues- toleration, civility and fairness. Rather than privilege a shortlist of serially ordered principles of justice that apply to the basic structure of society, civic liberalism inspires a comprehensive theory that applies to both individuals and institutions.

I emphasis three general prescriptions of civic liberalism in the book. Firstly, that we should take a purposeful and fiscally responsive approach to rights. This deviates quite significantly from standard liberal political theory in a number of important respects. It requires us to recognise the limitations of the liberal ideal of state neutrality and to reject the suggestion that neutrality can replace toleration. Furthermore, it requires us to abandon the idea that rights are trumps and the traditional division that is often made between the so-called ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ rights.

The second prescription of civic liberalism is that we should strive for a middle ground between judicial and legislative supremacy. Civic liberalism takes seriously what Robert Bork (1990) calls the ‘Madisonian Dilemma’. This is the dilemma between the moral demands of the virtues of toleration and civility. Respect for toleration leads us in the direction of limited government, government that does not unjustly interfere with individual liberty. This concern for individual rights provides the normative basis for constitutionalism. This can be contrasted with the moral demands of civility, demands which leads us to majority rule and the idea of self-government. If we take only the moral dimensions of these two virtues into account, it seems that we cannot resolve the Madisonian Dilemma. For we have two contradictory prescriptions- limited government and self-government. But civic liberalism inspires a public philosophy that gives due attention to both the moral and pragmatic dimensions of these virtues. It does not seek to give an absolute priority to any of the moral demands of toleration or civility. Rather, it seeks to reconcile the diverse demands of toleration, civility and fairness. As such, civic liberalism does not see the Madisonian Dilemma as paradoxical. This apparent dilemma reinforces the case for invoking a virtue-oriented approach rather than a principle-oriented approach to government. Civic liberalism defends a virtue-oriented conception of liberal democracy that takes both sides of the Madisionian Dilemma seriously. A public philosophy that takes the complexities of the Madisionian Dilemma seriously is one that will seek to steer a middle path between judicial and legislative supremacy. I argue that one such middle path is occupied by the ‘dialogical model’ of judicial review and such a model is virtue-enhancing and thus desirable by the standards of civic liberalism.

And finally, the third prescription of civic liberalism is that we must foster and cultivate an informed and engaged reflective citizenry. A citizenry who, among other things, seeks to accommodate the demands of both prioritarianism and ethical particularism. A citizenry who recognises the fact that property is a legal convention and that taxation is a major instrument of implementing the demands of justice. And yet one that appreciates the complexities of the vulnerabilities that citizens face both for themselves and for their loved ones. Informed citizens will have an accurate sense of their position within the distributive scheme as well as the needs of others. This requires some intimate knowledge of their own society (e.g. its history, socio-economic prosperity, the needs of the disadvantaged, etc.). The reflective citizen will possess the ability to make others imaginatively present in their own minds. Such a citizen seeks to balance their personal and familial obligations with the prioritarian obligation to others. When a citizen feels that the collectivity has failed to go far enough in terms of redressing preventable disadvantage, they will act in a manner appropriate of someone with moral integrity. For example, they may donate a greater proportion of their time, energy and wealth to private and public organizations that they believe are well placed to further fulfill our prioritarian obligations. Doing this demonstrates one’s fidelity to respecting the disadvantaged (which is a requirement of the virtue of fairness).

Writing this book has been a very intimate experience for me. It represents my own personal struggle to reconcile my deepest moral and political convictions and captures my concerns and reservations about the fitness of contemporary political philosophy. For me political philosophy/theory is inherently practical. A theory of justice should be able to function as both a motive and a guide for our individual and collective action. And to serve these two purposes a political theory must be atuned to the realities we face in real, non-ideal societies.

If everything goes smoothly this book should be out in print some time in 2007. With the Palgrave book now completed, and a sabbatical this coming year, I can invest more of my energies into my next big project- a book on genetics and justice.