Category Archives: Reading Group

Integrity, Law and Congruence: Comments on Chapter 3

Thanks to Andrew Lister for an admirably concise and rich review of the third chapter of my book. The main aim of Chapter 3 is to lay down the strategy for vindicating the convergence view. I argue that respect for integrity and reasonable pluralism are both foundational values in public reason liberalism, so foundational that they can be used to choose between conceptions or interpretation of the idea of public reason. I will argue that the convergence view is superior on both grounds to the mainstream consensus view in Chapter 4.

But Lister raises some important concerns about how that vindication is going to go. read more...

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Vallier Reading Group: Chapter 3

Chapter 2 set out the argument linking public justifiability with restraint, advanced the integrity and fairness objections to restraint, and criticized the stability argument for restraint. Later chapters will attempt to uncouple public justifiability from restraint by arguing for what I think of as an indirect convergence view.

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Publicity, Divisiveness and Restraint: Comments on Chapter 2

Let me begin by thanking Danny for commenting on my work. Danny and I overlapped in graduate school for three years, and he’s offered perceptive comments on my work ever since. So I’m especially grateful to him for his lengthy engagement with my work.

Danny has two big concerns about the second chapter of my book: (i) that we might ground restraint in the value of publicity and (ii) that my objection to divisiveness-based arguments for restraint is unsuccessful. Together, (i) and (ii) may vindicate restraint despite the objections in the chapter.

A quick note before I begin my replies. Even if Danny’s objections are successful and restraining divisiveness and promoting publicity both support restraint, restraint is not thereby vindicated (and Danny does not say as much). Just to be clear: to vindicate restraint, we must show that both objections override the integrity and fairness objections. We do not yet have an argument for that position. read more...

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Public Justification, Authority and Coercion: Comments on Chapter 1

I want to begin by again thanking Chad for putting this group together and to all the participants, especially Micah for his excellent summary and questions of Chapter 1 of my book. I didn’t see a way to answer his discussion questions in a unified fashion, so I’m largely going to respond point by point. Since question 5 generated discussion, I’m going to lead with it. Here’s Micah’s:

Why is PJP limited to coercive laws? Are there any laws that are not coercive? I ask that question because Vallier mentions Rawls’s view that “political power is always coercive power.” If that is the case, one might argue that all laws are the product of exercises of political power, and so they are, at some level, always coercive. But I am not sure whether Vallier wants to extend the scope of the principle that far. For example, what about a law that calls on public officials to exhort their fellow citizens in support of Christianity? Suppose the law explicitly disclaims any sanction. No one who violates it can be punished by the state in any way. Would this law require public justification? (For other examples, see Colin Bird’s recent paper, Coercion and Public Justification.) read more...

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Vallier Reading Group: Chapter 1

I am happy to begin our reading group on Kevin Vallier’s new book, Liberal Politics and Public Faith: Beyond Separation. My thanks to Chad Van Schoelandt for organizing. In earlier reading groups, we have followed a standard format of summarizing a chapter and then raising some questions about it. In this post, I focus on Chapter 1, Public Reason Liberalism: Religion’s Child and King.


The liberal tradition is often accused of hostility toward religion. Because liberalism places constraints on the role of religious commitments in politics, it may seem to have a “secularist bias.” In this chapter, Vallier seeks to defend liberalism against this charge, or at least against the claim that liberalism is motivated by such bias or hostility. Vallier claims that liberalism has a “schizophrenic attitude” toward religion: on one hand, promoting religious liberty and diversity, but on the other, constraining the influence of religion in the political domain. But this attitude does not reflect hostility so much as a good faith effort to balance religious freedom with the demand for a legitimate and stable public authority. To develop this claim, this chapter describes the “source, ground, and structure of public reason liberalism” (10) and, by extension, the liberal tradition more generally. read more...

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Brettschneider Response to Quong on the Introduction and Chapter One of When the State Speaks

I would like to begin by thanking the contributors to Public Reason symposium for such careful summaries of the book and such thoughtful and probing questions. The discussions in the comments section have also been terrific and I am grateful to all who participated. I will begin to post responses now to participants, beginning with Jon Quong’s eloquent and lucid remarks on the introduction and chapter one of When the State Speaks, What Should it Say? (I note that due to vacation it might take me some time between some of my reply posts.)

Quong begins by outlining my ambition of avoiding both the dystopias of the Invasive State and the Hateful Society. He notes that I aim to do so by combining robust rights against coercion with “democratic persuasion.” The state engages in democratic persuasion when it combats hateful and discriminatory viewpoints by using its expressive capacities, including its spending power.

Quong asks why my opposition to hateful expression does not lead me to a more European rather than American approach to free speech. In Europe free speech is seen as a value but one that has to be balanced against other values. The European approach allows the state to use its coercive power to ban hateful expression, imprisoning people for their speech.

In contrast, my aim in the book is to defend the distinct American approach to free speech when it comes to rights against coercion. On my view, the state should follow the rule of “viewpoint neutrality” when it comes to its coercive power: it should not coercively ban any viewpoint as long as a speaker is not directly threatening a particular individual or group.

The mistake of the balancing conception is to think that the only way to recognize the values of liberty and equality is to trade them off. But value democracy proposes to respect those values simultaneously. We can pursue the transformation of illiberal beliefs while maintaining robust free speech commitments in the form of viewpoint neutrality.

One justification for limiting the right of free speech when it comes to hateful expression is that the liberal democratic state needs to “take its own side” by condemning viewpoints that are antithetical to the free and equal status of its citizens. But I argue that this can be done while protecting the right of free speech. The state can make clear its opposition and lack of complicity with hateful viewpoints by using its expressive capacity to condemn them and explain why they should be rejected.

According to the balancing conception, another rationale for coercively limiting hate speech is that it would make the society more stable by limiting views that might undermine liberal democracy. But to see the superiority of my approach over balancing, consider a world in which democratic persuasion was as successful in pushing back against hateful viewpoints as coercive punishment of those views. If there were a small-added advantage to protecting all viewpoints, this would recommend value democracy over its alternatives. But even if it were less successful, I maintain it can push back these views such that there is no risk of a collapse of democracy. Value democracy sufficiently answers what I call the “stability worry” about the Hateful Society.

But on my view the advantages of viewpoint neutrality to a democratic society are not small. They are significant such that even if democratic persuasion is successful in curtailing hateful viewpoints, but less effective than coercion, we should still pursue a path of protecting all viewpoints while engaging in democratic persuasion.

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