Monthly Archives: December 2008

Response to Alon Harel on Chapter Seven of Democratic Rights, “Judicial Review: Balancing Rights and Procedures.”

 I would like to thank Alon for his comments on Chapter 7, especially given the importance of his own work on the topic of the chapter.  My conversations with him on this subject also have helped me to clarify my own thinking.  Nonetheless, there are some important points of disagreement.

Alon rejects the balancing approach when it comes to majoirtarian violations of many basic rights.  Although Alon leaves open the question of whether there might be such balancing in some cases, in his view, often when a majority violates basic rights that majority decision has no weight in terms of democratic legitimacy.  Alon gives us an example for instance of a plebiscite that would prohibit Corey Brettschneider from studying political science.  He argues that such laws not only violate rights but that there is no sense in which they are democratic.  He needs to make this last claim to show that such decisions have no weight or value on democratic grounds.

I am tempted to agree with Alon about this specific example.  But it seems to me that this example is a particular distinct kind of rights violation.  Namely, this law has the ad hoc character of the special laws that I argued in chapter 2 violated the most basic requirements of the rule of law in self-government.  Such a decision does not even result in the making of law, the most basic task of legislatures and plebiscites in a democracy.  Therefore such a policy has no weight because it does not even have the status of law.

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Brettschneider Response to Alex Zakaras on Chapter Six of Democratic Rights, “Private Property and the Right to Welfare.”

Thanks to Alex for his thoughtful and helpful post on this chapter.  His comments are especially helpful in thinking through how my account might respond to a kind of libertarian or “classically liberal” challenge. Specifically, Alex develops such a potential challenge from within the context of democratic contractualism. In particular, Alex wonders whether I am overly statist in my approach to welfare rights.  Citing Skocpol, he suggests that state involvement in welfare provision might weaken incentives of civil society groups to provide charity.  Why, he asks, should democratic contractualism rely on the state rather than charity to provide basic welfare rights?

I acknowledge the logical possibility that private markets might provide the kind of minimal welfare guarantees I defend in this chapter.  But absent any government involvement, I am skeptical that this logical possibility is likely.  More importantly, I have another worry about purely private provision of charity as a way of meeting these goals.  Although, Locke speaks of a right to “charity,” I worry that a system of purely private provision absent any state guarantees might undermine the notion that a guarantee of a minimum level of goods is in fact a right. Charity is often seen as a moral duty, but not a right required for political legitimacy.  On my account, however, it is important that these entitlements are, like the other democratic rights I defend,  necessary conditions for a legitimate state.  In sum, I acknowledge the logical possibility that these rights might be met be a market without a government safety net.  But I worry both that this is an unlikely empirical possibility and that such a system would weaken the claim that  a minimum provision of goods as a democratic right.

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Long-overdue replies to comments on “Rosa Parks”

I’ve been very negligent in replying to Ben’s and Andy’s excellent comments on my PPPS democratic leadership paper.  It being Christmas Eve, I’ve finally found time to hastily write up my thoughts!  They’re lengthy, so I’ve followed the pattern and uploaded them as PDF.  Here they are.  All further thoughts are, of course, not only welcome but greatly and enthusiastically appreciated.

(Have a good holiday, everyone.)

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Comments on Gowder’s “Rosa Parks”

I’ve written some fairly extensive comments on the podcast that Paul Gowder posted a few weeks ago (or, more precisely, on the written paper (.pdf)).  Since they’re several pages long, I’ve decided to link to them as a .pdf rather than taking up oodles of space in a web post. I do think the paper is very exciting, and I hope that these comments will spur further discussion either here or below Paul’s original post.

Anyway: here are the comments.

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The Fight for Science (and Justice)

Moral and political philosophers are concerned with how we ought to act, as both individuals and collectivity as societies.  So we ask questions like: What makes an action right or wrong?  What constitutes the “good life”?  How should society distribute the benefits and burdens of social cooperation (like wealth, and rights and freedoms)?

As philosophers, it is not surprising that we turn to the history of philosophy to help us grapple with these timeless normative questions.  So we turn to intellectual giants like Aristotle, Kant, Mill and Marx for guidance on how we can sensibly deliberate about the demands of morality and justice.  More recently, moral and political philosophers have engaged (and still do) in many a spirited debate relating to John Rawls’s theory “justice as fairness”, and topical applied topics like multiculturalism, animal rights, deliberative democracy and cosmopolitanism.  These are all interesting issues, topics I myself have published on and currently teach.  But something vital is missing…. 

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Brettschneider Response to Jim Wilson on Democratic Rights, Chapter V, “The Rights of the Punished.”

Many thanks to Jim Wilson for an excellent discussion of Chapter V, “The Rights of the Punished.”  I will focus on two issues raised by his comments.  Both concern the relationship between my own theory and more traditional accounts of punishment, in particular concerns about whether punishment deters future crime as well as the possible place of my account of punishment within the retributivist tradition.

First, Jim perceptively elaborates on Hobbes’ account of punishment and asks whether it might be more compatible with my own arguments than I allow.  In particular, he asks whether a defense of capital punishment on general deterrence grounds might be brought within the scope of democratic contractualism.  As Jim makes clear, it is important for Hobbes that any account of capital punishment cannot be justified within the contractual relationship between the condemned and the state.  The ties of the social contract are severed in cases of capital punishment because the state’s sole aim is to protect life.  Capital punishment fails to meet that goal for the condemned and therefore any justification of it must sever the tie of that relationship.  The result is that for Hobbes capital punishment is justified for the state and resistance is justified for the condemned.  But this kind of justification is distinct from those that take place within social contract. 

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