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Extending the reach of Baylean (and Forstian) toleration
Chandran Kukathas

Chandran Kukathas, in his response to the volume’s lead essay, focuses on Forst’s use of Bayle. He argues that Forst underestimates the power of Bayle’s challenge and the radical nature of its implications for our understanding of political order. Kukathas begins with an account of Bayle’s theory of toleration, drawing attention to its distinctiveness and reviewing the main objections that have been raised against it. He then turns to Forst’s account, showing how Forst has sought to incorporate Bayle’s thought into a deeper understanding of toleration. In the next section, he considers Forst’s theory of toleration more critically, arguing that he has not embraced Bayle to the extent necessary for the incorporation to be of any great consequence. The root of the problem lies with the subordination of toleration to justice; here Kukathas offers reasons for thinking that toleration is not a virtue of justice but supplies the foundations for justice. He then suggests that this requires thinking about justice in a very different way, one which gives it a much more modest place in our thinking about political order generally. Kukathas concludes with some wider reflections on where this leaves Rainer Forst’s conception of justice as the right to justification.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
Melissa S. Williams

In her response to Rainer Forst’s lead essay, Melissa S. Williams interrogates Forst’s account of morality through an empirical and historical analysis of the actions by which human agents establish moral and just relations between themselves. She challenges the idea that all moral practices of reciprocal respect can be reduced to practices of justification. ‘Prefigurative’ practices such as those employed by Gandhi and various Indigenous movements entail a turning away from a politics of justification and critique addressed to the dominating agent, and a turning towards those whose solidarity one seeks in constructing and enacting an alternative ethical form of life based on relationships of egalitarian reciprocity. Such approaches begin from the understanding that practices of reason, and especially social practices of reason-giving and reason-demanding, and of recognising others as rational subjects, are never innocent of power relations. Forst may respond that his theory acknowledges the role of power in constituting the subjects who are capable of recognising one another as equal agents of justification, but this leaves unanswered the question of what agents are doing when they interrupt discursive practices of justification by substituting non-discursive performances of egalitarian respect within cooperative relationship.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
Daniel Weinstock

Daniel Weinstock frames his response to Rainer Forst within debates over ideal and non-ideal political theory. If any political concept reflects non-ideal political circumstances, he argues, it is toleration, since it emerges from a context in which people not only disagree about how their common lives should be organised, but are willing to coerce others into seeing things their way. Turning to Forst’s work, Weinstock provides a brief account of the overall argument, highlighting the main structural elements of the view Forst defends. He then identifies a puzzling feature in that account, one that facilitates the conflation of non-ideal and ideal toleration. In the third and fourth sections of the chapter, Weinstock describes two families of reasons that might underpin a non-ideal conception of toleration, one that is more attuned than Forst’s is to self-restraint as a constitutive ingredient of the structural account of toleration. The first of these families of reasons is consequentialist in nature, while the second emphasises the fallibilism of the kind of human judgement that is central to Forst’s own way of thinking about toleration. Finally, Weinstock offers some reasons for thinking that these two conceptions of toleration ought to be considered distinct, rather than, as Forst thinks, examples of the non-ideal kind drawing its normative justification from its approximation of the ideal kind.

in Toleration, power and the right to justification
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
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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