What’s the use?
Rainer Forst and the history of toleration
in Toleration, power and the right to justification
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Teresa M. Bejan begins her response to Rainer Forst’s lead essay by recounting some of the criticisms that have been levelled at his overall project. She notes that various scholars have accused him of being unduly rationalist and insensitive to historical and cultural particularity. Against this, she observes that his major work, Toleration in Conflict, presents the idea of universal morality as an achievement brought into being by historical actors (including Martin Luther and Pierre Bayle) who transcended their own contexts, engaging in a revolutionary form of critique. Forst’s method is expressly interdisciplinary and historical, arguing for progress in the form of the gradual expansion of demands for justification in the face of arbitrary power. But how convincing is his reading of history? To answer this question, Bejan re-examines TiC in the light of various historical works that have followed it. She finds that Forst omits key contexts from his discussion, notably the British colonies in North America, meaning that his history remains highly theoretical. Ultimately, she argues, Forst reifies his central concept of respect, meaning that he cannot get to grips with any of the potential challenges posed by the figures he surveys. This diminishes the value of his historical engagement.

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