Author Archives: Claudio Lopez-Guerra

New Book: Democracy and Disenfranchisement


I would like to announce the publication of my book, Democracy and Disenfranchisement: The Morality of Electoral Exclusions. It is available at Amazon and Oxford UP. Below is the jacket description, advanced praise, and table of contents.

The denial of voting rights to certain types of persons continues to be a moral problem of practical significance. The disenfranchisement of persons with mental impairments, minors, noncitizen residents, nonresident citizens, and criminal offenders is a matter of controversy in many countries. How should we think morally about electoral exclusions? What should we conclude about these particular cases? This book proposes a set of principles, called the Critical Suffrage Doctrine, that defies conventional beliefs on the legitimate denial of the franchise. According to the Critical Suffrage Doctrine, in some realistic circumstances it is morally acceptable to adopt an alternative to universal suffrage that would exclude the vast majority of sane adults for being largely uninformed. Thus, contrary to what most people believe, current controversies on the franchise are not about exploring the limits of a basic moral right. Regarding such controversies, the Critical Suffrage Doctrine establishes that, in polities with universal suffrage, the blanket disenfranchisement of minors and the mentally impaired cannot be justified; that noncitizen residents should be allowed to vote; that excluding nonresident citizens is permissible; and that criminal offenders should not be disenfranchised-although facilitating voting from prison is not required in all contexts. Political theorists have rarely submitted the franchise to serious scrutiny. Hence this study makes a contribution to a largely neglected and important subject.


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Brettschneider Reading Group: Final

I, too, join the praise for Corey’s work and appreciate the invitation to participate in this forum. Writing an original, well-executed and compelling book, such as this one, on a topic that has been debated for so long and by so many influential thinkers is an outstanding achievement.

There is no text for me to summarize, so here are my questions and comments:

1. First I want to challenge Corey’s application of the means-based limit to one important question: whether compelled exposure to the state’s speech can be justified. Corey not only claims that the state should not unilaterally force people to accept certain positions (e.g. dropping a substance in the public water supply that would make everyone reasonable or putting in jail those who utter hateful slogans). He also claims that the state should not coerce people to become acquainted with its views. I hold a different view. First, notice that there is a sense in which the means of persuasion must be coercive, if only because the state cannot speak at all unless it coercively obtains funds for that purpose. Members of the KKK would certainly not be persuaded to finance public efforts aimed at persuading them to abandon their views. Instead, they would be taxed. So we can plausibly say that all state speech is at least coercively supported. What interests me is Corey’s position on something that lies between the coercive support of state speech (which Corey takes to be unproblematic) and the coercive eradication of hateful views (which Corey rejects): namely, the coercive exposure to state speech; being forced to learn the state’s position and reasons.

Can the state force the members of hateful groups to listen? Consider a concrete policy. Courts often force certain people into various kinds of therapies and treatments (e.g. mandated attendance to A.A. meetings after drunk driving). Similarly, members of hateful groups could be forced to attend occasional deliberative meetings where they would have to listen, while remaining free to reject, the state’s position on the relevant issues. Would this violate the means-based limit? The point is relevant because most or all of the means of persuasion that Corey considers can be ignored (speeches, court opinions, monuments, and so on). This is not the issue of effectiveness. It is not about people remaining unpersuaded by the state’s reasons, but about remaining ignorant about them. In its official role as defender of the values of free and equal citizenship, does the state’s right to speak entail an enforceable duty to listen? Put differently: Is coercive exposure to state speech a legitimate means of persuasion?

Corey’s answer: “democratic persuasion should not be forced on adults” (p. 99). He rightly claims that forcing (unschooled) adults to attend school in the same way that we force children to do so would violate their fundamental rights. He then goes on to suggest that any form of coercive exposure to the state’s views on democratic values would similarly violate adult’s rights of freedom of expression, conscience, privacy and autonomy. But I think that forcing adults to attend school is not comparable to forcing them to occasional means of democratic persuasion. Compulsory adult schooling lacks a clear rationale, and it would seriously affect a person’s pursuit of her plans of life, with potentially serious implications for her welfare. By contrast, requiring members of the KKK to attend, say, a three-hour democratic persuasion session once a year, in which they would be exposed to the reasons why the group’s values are considered to be incompatible with the ideals of free and equal citizenship, does not strike me as a violation of their fundamental rights at all (i.e. a violation of Corey’s means-based limit). This would be comparable, it seems to me, to forcing adults to become familiar with the content of certain laws. If the state has a minimally decent reason for doing so, and people would be minimally affected, I see no problem. Under the measures I have outlined, members of hate groups may continue to believe and express whatever they want, and their lives would go on as usual. Merely being required to know the public values of your state at a trivial cost does not seem to me to violate any right—not to say a fundamental one. In short, I think that Corey needs a more robust argument to show that forcing democratic persuasion on adults cannot be justified at all.

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