Author Archives: Anna Stilz

Brettschneider Reading Group: Chapter 5

I want to begin by thanking Corey for the opportunity to read his wonderful book. I found it well-written, original, and thought-provoking, and I am sympathetic to many aspects of his approach. While I sometimes disagreed, I always struggled to find good reasons to justify my disagreement, which is the mark of a sharp argument! Since Kevin has already summarized the main points of Chapter 5, I won’t do that again. Instead, I’d like to reflect on the issue of religious freedom against the background of the book as a whole.

I want to focus on a question raised by Corey himself, toward the end of Chapter 5: does the account of democratic persuasion defended here risk the “extinction” of religion (157)? Chapter 5’s main argument is that the state, in its expressive capacity, ought to attempt to transform its citizens’ religious beliefs when those beliefs oppose liberal democracy’s core values. This is a provocative view, not least because it raises the specter of incompatibility between certain types of religious faith and good citizenship. Is it possible for an Orthodox Jew, a practicing Catholic, an evangelical Protestant, or a conservative Muslim to be a good citizen of a value democracy, without transforming their religious doctrines to the point where these doctrines are nearly indistinguishable from a secular ethical liberalism?

An analogous worry is familiar from popular culture, where religious people often raise suspicious objections about “transformative” liberal projects. Their objection is that while these liberal projects are “officially” capable of being endorsed by a wide variety of doctrines and perspectives, in reality they turn out to be extensionally equivalent to a secular ethical liberalism. While I am not myself religious, I feel some sympathy for these objections, and I think it is important for political liberals to show that such suspicions are false. They need to demonstrate that one can be a devout religious believer and a good political liberal at the same time.

Before exploring further, I want to clarify the sense in which I am asking whether religious believers can be good citizens. Corey emphasizes many times over that individuals have fundamental rights to religious liberty and to basic freedoms of association, conscience, and expression. The means-based constraint on the state’s democratic persuasion holds that the state must respect these rights in its efforts at transformation, even in cases where citizens espouse doctrines opposed to democratic values. Corey is crystal clear that religious believers may not be coercively sanctioned by the state for their views. So I am not arguing that Corey denies one can adhere to certain (hateful or discriminatory) religious doctrines and still be a lawful citizen of a liberal democracy, free from coercive penalty.

Yet the matter does not end there. For Corey also emphasizes that liberal citizens are under an (unenforceable) moral duty to engage in “reflective revision” of their private beliefs, including their religious beliefs. And where citizens fail to adequately revise their beliefs on their own, the state may exercise its expressive capacity to criticize their views. A virtuous citizen, it seems, is one who makes good on this duty of reflective revision. What I want to know is whether a citizen can be fully virtuous—having reflectively revised her views—and still be religious? Would an “ideal” democracy, composed of all and only virtuous citizens, be a completely secular democracy?

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Brettschneider Reading Group, Chapter 2


Corey Brettschneider argues in Chapter 2 of Democratic Rights that citizens’ status as rulers in a democracy entitles them to claim individual rights based on the core elements of the value theory—equality of interests, political autonomy, and reciprocity.  These democratic rights are substantive rights and not just rights of participation.  After elaborating how the value theory works to ground substantive rights, Brettschneider closes by considering how two fundamental democratic rights—to the rule of law and to freedom of speech—might be argued for from the perspective of the value theory.

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