I have been working for a while on a paper, which was provoked by the cartoons of Muhammad that were published in Denmark in 2005 and created an international uproar. In the Danish public debate about the cartoons there were a number of dividing lines, but the one I find of particular interest from the perspective of political theory is one drawn between standing firm on Enlightenment values (freedom of expression and democracy) versus giving in to the demand for respect for religious feelings. In my paper I relate this contrast to Galston’s contrast between Enlightenment and Reformation Liberalism, autonomy and diversity. In short, I reject Galston’s dichotomy and argue that the Enlightenment value of autonomy is not the culprit; it is not this principle that is to blame for the lack of respect for Muslims in the Danish cartoon controversy. To make this argument I distinguish different ways in which “autonomy” may be used. In particular, I am concerned with how autonomy is used in justifications for freedom of expression and whether these uses are incompatible with respect for diversity. I argue that if we understand the autonomy that freedom of expression is justified with reference to not as a character ideal that has to be promoted but as a capacity we presuppose everyone has, then this principle rather than creating hierarchies among forms of life is an indispensable principle for grounding equal respect. Properly understood, a commitment to autonomy is not a threat to respect for difference but its precondition.
I am very interested in any thoughts on whether my argument success. In particular, I am not quite satisfied with the concluding section (sec IV) in which I try to respond to objections.