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Patchen Markell

Patchen Markell begins his response to Rainer Forst by expressing a concern about the narrowness of Forst’s commitment to the idea of human beings as ‘justifying, reason-giving beings’. Building on the intuition that a more capacious sense of critical theory’s modes of engagement with the world is called for, Markell chooses to focus on Forst’s conception of power. For Forst, power is not just a simple dyadic relation between one agent and another: there is also such a thing as an ‘order of power’, which is also an ‘order of justification’. This involves the patterning of relations among persons in a society by virtue of the acceptance of certain ‘narratives of justification’, sometimes including patterns of domination and subordination. As Forst acknowledges, one of the central tasks of critical theory is to identify, analyse and criticise such situations. But practices of justification themselves may be implicated in relations of domination, since ‘justification’ is an abstraction from the concrete social practices in which it takes place. Forst is aware that criticism of social relations can be foreclosed by people being socialised into a tacit belief in the justified character of those relations. However, he fails to acknowledge that, while the demand for justification is an important part of the critique of these phenomena, in many cases it must be accompanied or preceded by a struggle to reconfigure the space of appearance, to bring these phenomena to attention or to alter the terms of their public representation.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
David Owen

David Owen opens his response by observing that, for Rainer Forst, the first question of justice is the question of power. In any scheme of rule, what matters is that those subject to power are able to contest and shape the relations of rule by demanding justifications. Moving on to Forst's concept of morality, Owen observes that this is rooted in a Wittgenstenian 'seeing' of other human beings as human. He agrees with Forst about this fundamental form of moral recognition, but charges Forst with making it appear that seeing another biological human being as human means seeing all other biological human beings as human. Owen also argues that, contrary to what Forst suggests, overcoming soulblindness is not a matter of being provided with additional facts or normative reasons but of 'soul-dawning', of coming to see an aspect that one could not see before. The basis of Forst's error here is his treatment of the power exerted by structures (such as patriarchy) that configure the general space of reasons. In separating this area from his broader discussion of power, Forst embraces a narrower definition in which justificatory reasons are the normative medium though which power is exercised. Owen ends his response by reflecting on Bernard Williams's distinction between justification and vindication, and whether Forst's account is capable of explaining how far political violence may be used in the pursuit of establishing the right to justification.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
Abstract only
John Horton

John Horton begins his chapter by acknowledging Rainer Forst’s contribution to rewriting the history of toleration in the West, as well as the important conceptual work he has done by providing an account of the concept of toleration that is notable for its clarity and precision. Despite this, Horton raises questions about Forst’s approach. The weight of Forst’s argument depends on his principle of the right to justification and the robustness of the associated distinction between the moral and the ethical, i.e. between reasons that are general and shareable and those that are not. Despite being a frequently cited principle in contemporary political philosophy, this distinction is more problematic than most of its adherents acknowledge, since exclusive reliance on non-public reasons of the sort that run afoul of the requirements of generality and reciprocity is uncommon in real life. Horton then goes on to criticise the epistemological component of the right to justification, observing that the distinction between the moral and the ethical is difficult to sustain. These and other arguments undermine Forst’s claim to be able to resolve practical disputes about toleration, or at least demonstrate that he is only able to do so by importing controversial substantive content into the argument. Horton concludes that moral/political principles, no less than ethical beliefs, are radically underdetermined by the criteria of reciprocity and generality, and that appealing to reciprocity and generality in order to resolve disputes about toleration is no more than an act of faith.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
Rainer Forst in dialogue
Series: Critical Powers
Author: Rainer Forst

Rainer Forst's Toleration in Conflict (published in English 2013) is the most important historical and philosophical analysis of toleration of the past several decades. Reconstructing the entire history of the concept, it provides a forceful account of the tensions and dilemmas that pervade the discourse of toleration. In his lead essay for this volume, Forst revisits his work on toleration and situates it in relation to both the concept of political liberty and his wider project of a critical theory of justification. Interlocutors Teresa M. Bejan, Chandran Kukathas, John Horton, Daniel Weinstock, Melissa S. Williams, Patchen Markell and David Owen then critically examine Forst's reconstruction of toleration, his account of political liberty and the form of critical theory that he articulates in his work on such political concepts. The volume concludes with Forst’s reply to his critics.

Rainer Forst

Rainer Forst begins his lead essay by discussing the concept of toleration. He asserts that toleration involves three components – objection, acceptance and rejection – and that its task is to bring these components into the correct normative order. He then identifies two different conceptions of toleration that have been advanced in the past: the permission conception, an authoritarian attitude which grants minorities the permission to live according to their faith, and the respect conception, an attitude of citizens who know that they do not agree with each other, but who accept that institutions must be based on norms which can be shared by all. While it is tempting to believe that today we follow the respect conception, in reality the permission conception is still regularly employed. Negotiating these different conceptions requires a normative principle beyond toleration; Forst proposes that this principle should be justice. The central connection between justice and toleration, he argues, consists in the following question: Does my objection to a practice rest on reasons that do not merely reflect my ethical or religious position that others do not share, but on reasons that are sufficient to proceed to rejection? Forst concludes by arguing that if we want to talk about genuine progress in toleration, the central question is how to develop a secular moral language in which those affected can present and discuss their claims – and in which there is a willingness also to treat minorities as equals.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
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Rainer Forst and the history of toleration
Teresa M. Bejan

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.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
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Democratic state, capitalist society, or dysfunctional differentiation?
Darrow Schecter

Contemporary societies around the globe are characterised by the difficulties and discoveries inherent in trying to co-ordinate the functions of discrete social systems, each of which is steered by a unique code. Social systems have been in existence as long as there have been human societies. They have been managed, to greater and lesser extents, by a wide variety of power structures operative within diverse forms of statehood. Politically constituted modern states had to perform and continue to perform this immense task of co-ordinating social systems. Governments and state ministries have tended to try to do so without paying sufficient attention to the details of systemic coding or historical patterns of inter-systemic communication, thereby mismanaging the processes involved in many cases. States are still desperately trying to channel systems on the basis of strategic decisions stemming from informal assemblies of ministerial elites, consultancy firms, lobbies, and what in effect amount to different kinds of private clients. These are usually vantage points with little theoretical or social proximity to the specific systems in question, thus reinforcing the patterns of governance that misdirect systems whilst simultaneously coercively integrating citizens. Individual systems cannot significantly enhance their respective capacities for self-steering without knowledge about the functioning of neighbouring systems. Critical Theory and Sociological Theory investigates the extent to which this particular knowledge process is changing, and if systems increasingly require the input of citizens capable of thinking and acting more flexibly than binary codes permit. Therein lies the epistemological and political significance of the distinction between mediated unity and mediated non-identity. Adorno’s dictum that ‘the critique of knowledge is social critique and vice versa’ can be fruitfully elaborated today with this in mind.

in Critical theory and sociological theory
On late modernity and social statehood
Author: Darrow Schecter

Populism, neoliberalism, and globalisation are just three of the many terms used to analyse the challenges facing democracies around the world. Critical Theory and Sociological Theory examines those challenges by investigating how the conditions of democratic statehood have been altered at several key historical intervals since 1945. The author explains why the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood, such as elections, have always been complemented by civic, cultural, educational, socio-economic, and, perhaps most importantly, constitutional institutions mediating between citizens and state authority. Critical theory is rearticulated with a contemporary focus in order to show how the mediations between citizens and statehood are once again rapidly changing. The book looks at the ways in which modern societies have developed mixed constitutions in several senses that go beyond the official separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. In addition to that separation, one also witnesses a complex set of conflicts, agreements, and precarious compromises that are not adequately defined by the existing conceptual vocabulary on the subject. Darrow Schecter shows why a sociological approach to critical theory is urgently needed to address prevailing conceptual deficits and to explain how the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood need to be complemented and updated in new ways today.

On the sociological paradoxes of weak dialectical formalism and embedded neoliberalism
Darrow Schecter

Law, money, educational training, knowledge, politics, and power play some role in the workings of each social system. Yet it would be wrong to suppose that social systems are states in miniature. It would also be wrong to suppose that social systems function like regional states within an overarching nation state. Modern societies are constituted in ways that enable a specific social system, designated as the political system, to emerge and assume responsibility for the impersonal sharing and transfer of power. Attempts to strategically de-differentiate systems for the purposes of taking control and steering them have lead in some instances to the re-personalisation of the exercise of power, corruption, and other kinds of democratic deficits. It is no longer feasible to imagine political authority as having a pyramidal structure that absorbs democratic inputs in a vertically structured process culminating in the state. Similarly, it is no longer possible to see the fundamentally important constitutional dimension of statehood as being limited to the official separation of legislative, executive, and judicial powers. Statehood today has to be reappraised in light of the potentially constitutional dimensions of social systems and the possibilities for inter-systemic communication.

in Critical theory and sociological theory
Looming constitutional conflicts between the de-centralist logic of functional diff erentiation and the bio-political steering of austerity and global governance
Darrow Schecter

The election outcomes of a given national political system are frequently rendered inconsequential through the strategic interventions of the Troika and other agencies of transnational governance. Populist responses to austerity and related measures can be understood as ultimately futile attempts to compensate for the erosion of effective mediation between citizens and the state. More specifically, social democratic parties and trade unions can no longer mediate in the ways they could do so in the recent past. The implication is that going forward, new representative institutions will be needed to play the crucial role of complementing the formal mechanisms of democratic statehood. Like most other forms of state, liberal democracy attempts to politically constitute society. But liberal democracy does this as the closest known equivalent to what would be a functionally differentiated state without need of a governing functional differentiation party. Far from being the culminating point in a movement towards ‘the end of history’, the liberal democratic state of law was and remains a transitional state with vast potential to evolve in new directions.

in Critical theory and sociological theory