The reasonableness of pluralism
Matt Matravers and Susan Mendus
In ‘The Idea of an Overlapping Consensus’, John Rawls remarks that the
aims of political philosophy depend upon the society it addresses, and that
modern, democratic societies are characterised by ‘the fact of pluralism’:
they are societies in which different people have different and conflicting
comprehensive conceptions of the good, different and conflicting beliefs
about the right way to live morally speaking.1 Moreover, and troublingly,
Can human rights accommodate pluralism?
There are many ways to approach the topic selected for this year’s Oxford
Amnesty Lectures. I have chosen to examine it from the following angle: Can human
rights accommodate pluralism? I am especially interested in two questions: (1) Do
human rights transcend cultural and religious differences? (2) What does the
answer to this question imply for our understanding of democracy in a global context? I will begin by examining the supposedly universal relevance
Toleration and the character
This chapter addresses two influential ways of thinking about which
political principles we ought to adopt. The first way of thinking starts with
expectations about how persons ought to relate to one another in political
discourse. Political principles are justified by reference to these expectations.
The second way of thinking starts with certain values around which, it is
claimed, people ought to structure their lives. Political principles are then
Too much pluralism, not enough socialism:
interpreting the unions–party link
A central object of Labour’s re-branding as ‘New Labour’ was to distance it from
its trade union affiliates (Gould 1998: 257–8). The relationship was tense before
and after the 1997 election, when Blair reduced the unions’ formal power in the
party, and restricted employment policy initiatives largely to his predecessors’
promises (Ludlam 2001). But discontent was limited by real union gains, and tension eased markedly between
Edward Shils on pluralism and civility
Introduction: the ordeals of civility
In his influential work of social theory, The Civilizing Process, Norbert
Elias tells a fascinating story about how notions of civility and manners
arose in the transition from medieval to early modern Europe (Elias,
2000). Conceived mainly in terms of conventions regarding etiquette,
table manners, standards of personal grooming, and bodily hygiene, these
incipient ideas of civility and civilization gave rise to broader sociological
distinctions which functioned to
less likely to
do so). But humanitarianism does have system-wide functions, as we have seen – to provide
a mechanism to prevent the failures of the system as a whole endangering the broad consensus
necessary for it to continue, and to mop up some of the mess when great-power policies end in
failure and collapse. There is, then, a third possibility – humanitarianisms . A kind of
normative pluralism. Of course, historically there have been many different ways to deal with
those who suffer. This might well be the world we are entering again. But
The idea of toleration as the appropriate response to difference has been central to liberal thought since Locke. Although the subject has been widely and variously explored, there has been reluctance to acknowledge the new meaning that current debates offer on toleration. This book starts from a clear recognition of the new terms of the debate, reflecting the capacity of seeing the other's viewpoint, and the limited extent to which toleration can be granted. Theoretical statements on toleration posit at the same time its necessity in democratic societies, and its impossibility as a coherent ideal. There are several possible objections to, and ways of developing the ideal of, reasonable tolerance as advocated by John Rawls and by some other supporters of political liberalism. The first part of the book explores some of them. In some real-life conflicts, it is unclear on whom the burden of reasonableness may fall. This part discusses the reasonableness of pluralism, and general concept and various more specific conceptions of toleration. The forces of progressive politics have been divided into two camps: redistribution and recognition. The second part of the book is an attempt to explore the internal coherence of such a transformation when applied to different contexts. It argues that openness to others in discourse, and their treatment as free and equal, is part of a kind of reflexive toleration that pertains to public communication in the deliberative context. Social ethos, religious discrimination and education are discussed in connection with tolerance.
Social democracy's often diffuse societal, intellectual and cultural influences have exceeded and outlasted Labour's direct electoral success. This book focuses questions relating to the popular values, mindsets and sense of citizenship needed to further social democracy on that deeper enterprise of this book. It reflects on the 'big picture' of social democracy and progressivism, both historical and contemporary. Part I takes the historical bird's eye view, exploring social democratic and liberal dilemmas that both pervaded the twentieth century and remain very much alive today. It suggests that scholars and political analysts tend to under-play the extent to which progressivism and the voters have managed to operate in constructive harmony. Tracing new and social liberalism's, distinctive offer of a fusion between social interdependence and individualism, the volume assesses the failure of this British liberalism to become the over-arching driver of politics. The Scottish secession from the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum is also discussed. Part II takes stock of the critical scrutiny, discussing 'Western' democracies alongside the dominance and the extensive body of thought from David Marquand on citizenship, and especially Marquand's civic republican vision. Part III seeks to apply Marquand's search for the 'principled society', discusses social and psychological concept of 'neighbourliness', and examines the public good less as a fixed entity. Finally, the significance of Christopher Addison and his notions on the democratic socialism and liberal progressive traditions, and pluralism are discussed.
This book addresses the relationship between human rights and religion. The original blurb for the Oxford Amnesty Lectures of 2008 invited speakers and audiences to ponder arguments for the God-given source of human rights. The book explains how biblical inspiration (both Old and New Testament) fuelled the anti-slavery protests and later the civil rights movement in the United States. It develops the particular relevance, for arguments over human rights within Islam, of the writings of the medieval philosopher Muhammad al-Ghazali who justified an openness towards constructive engagement with other traditions. The book shows where the philosophical worldviews that inform the religion of Islam and the rights discourse may be distant from each other. It illustrates the challenge of taking the real world of human practice seriously while avoiding simplistic arguments for pluralism or relativism. The book focuses on Simon Schama's evocation of the religious fervour which helped feed the long struggles for liberation among American slave communities. It discusses the understanding of human rights in the Roman Catholic tradition. The book also shows that the Christian experience of Pentecost and what it means to learn to speak as well as understand another's language, is a continuing resource God has given the church to sustain the ability to suffer as well as respond to those who suffer for the long haul. The book argues that moral progress consists in the universalisation of Western liberal democracy with its specific understanding of human rights.
This monograph takes as its subject the dynamic new range of performance practices that have been developed since the demise of communism in the flourishing theatrical landscape of Poland. After 1989, Lease argues, the theatre has retained its historical role as the crucial space for debating and interrogating cultural and political identities. Providing access to scholarship and criticism not readily accessible to an English-speaking readership, this study surveys the rebirth of the theatre as a site of public intervention and social criticism since the establishment of democracy and the proliferation of theatre makers that have flaunted cultural commonplaces and begged new questions of Polish culture. Lease suggests that a radical democratic pluralism is only tenable through the destabilization of attempts to essentialize Polish national identity, focusing on the development of new theatre practices that interrogate the rise of nationalism, alternative sexual identities and forms of kinship, gender equality, contested histories of antisemitism, and postcolonial encounters. Lease elaborates a new theory of political theatre as part of the public sphere. The main contention is that the most significant change in performance practice after 1989 has been from opposition to the state to a more pluralistic practice that engages with marginalized identities purposefully left out of the rhetoric of freedom and independence.