Religion And Political Theory The Argument from Respect


The third and most
prominent argument for
the DRR is the
argument from respect.
Here we focus on only
one formulation of the
argument, which has
affinities with versions
of the argument
offered by Gerald Gaus
and Charles Larmore
(see Gaus [forthcoming]
[10]and Larmore 1987).
The argument from
respect runs as such:
1. Each citizen
deserves to be
respected as a
person.
2. If each citizen
deserves to be
respected as a
person, then
there is a
powerful prima
facie presumption
against the
permissibility of
state coercion.
3. So, there is a
powerful prima
facie presumption
against the
permissibility of
state coercion.
4. If the presumption
against state
coercion is to be
overcome (as it
sometimes must
be), then state
coercion must be
justified to those
who are coerced.
5. If state coercion
must be justified
to those who are
coerced, then any
coercive law that
lacks a plausible
secular rationale
is morally
illegitimate (as
there will be many
to whom such
coercion cannot be
justified).
6. If any coercive
law that lacks a
plausible secular
rationale is
morally illegitimate,
then a citizen
ought not to
support any law
that he believes
to have only a
religious rationale.
However, on the
assumption that the
antecedent to premise
(4) is true—that there
are cases in which the
state must coerce—it
follows (given a few
other assumptions)
that:
7. The DRR is true.
That is, the DRR follows
from a constraint on
what makes for the
moral legitimacy of
coercion—viz., that a
morally legitimate law
cannot be such that
there are those to
whom it cannot be
justified—and from the
claim that citizens
should not support any
law that they realize
lacks moral legitimacy.
The argument from
respect has received
its fair share of
criticism from liberal
critics. Perhaps the
most troubling of these
criticisms is that the
argument undermines
the legitimacy of basic
liberal commitments. To
appreciate the thrust
of this objection, focus
for a moment on the
notion being a coercive
law that is justified to
an agent, to which the
argument appeals. How
should we understand
this concept? One
natural suggestion is
this:
A coercive law
is justified to an
agent only if he
is reasonable
and has
sufficient
reasons from
his own
perspective to
support it.
Now consider a
coercive law that
protects fundamental
liberal commitments,
such as the right to
exercise religious
freedom. Is this law
justified to each citizen
of a liberal democracy?
Liberal critics answer:
no. For there appear to
be reasonable citizens
who have no good
reason from their own
perspective to affirm it.
Consider, for example,
a figure such as the
Islamic intellectual
Sayyid Qutb. While in
prison, Qutb wrote an
intelligent, informed,
and morally serious
commentary on the
Koran in which he laid
the ills of modern
society at the feet of
Christianity and liberal
[11]democracy. The
only way to extricate
ourselves from the
problems spawned by
liberal democracy, Qutb
argued, is to implement
shariah or Islamic legal
code, which implies that
the state should not
protect a robust right
to religious freedom. In
short, Qutb articulates
what is, from his point
of view, a compelling
theological rationale
against any law that
authorizes the state to
protect a robust right
to religious freedom. If
respect for persons
requires that each
coercive law be
justified to those
reasonable persons
subject to that law, and
if a person such as
Qutb were a citizen of
a liberal democracy,
then the argument from
respect implies that
laws that protect the
right to religious
freedom are morally
illegitimate, as they
lack moral justification
—at least for agents
[12]such as Qutb. And
for a defender of the
standard view, this is
certainly an unwelcome
result.
This kind of case leads
liberal critics of the
standard view to deny
the fourth premise of
the argument from
respect. If they are
correct, it is not the
case that coercive laws
must be justified to
those who must obey
them (in the sense of
justified to introduced
earlier). Although
having a persuasive
justification would
certainly be desirable
and a significant moral
achievement, the
liberal critics maintain
that the moral
legitimacy of a law is
not a function of
whether it can be
justified to all citizens—
not even to all
reasonable citizens.
Some citizens are
simply not in a strong
epistemic position to
recognize that certain
coercive laws are
morally legitimate. In
such cases, liberal
critics claim that we
should do what we can
to try to convince
these citizens that they
have been misled. And
we should certainly do
what we can to
accommodate their
concerns in ways that
are consistent with
basic liberal
commitments (see
Swaine 2006). At the
end of the day, though,
we may have no moral
option but to coerce
reasonable and
epistemically competent
peers whom we
recognize have no
reason from their
perspective to
recognize the
legitimacy of the laws
to which they are
subject. However, if a
coercive law can be
morally legitimate even
thoughiew do not
typically deny), then
they are just the sort
of reason that can be
adequate without being
recognized as such
even by our morally
serious and
epistemically competent
peers.
It should be conceded,
however, that this
objection to the
argument from respect
relies on a particular
understanding of what
it is for a coercive law
to be justified to an
agent. Is there another
account of this concept
that would aid the
advocates of the
standard view? There
is. Gerald Gaus has
argued that a coercive
law’s being justified to
an agent does not
require that that agent
actually have what he
regards as an
adequate reason to
support it (see Gaus
1996 and Audi 1997).
Better, suggests Gaus,
to understand the
concept being a
coercive law that is
justified to an agent
along the following
lines:
A coercive law
is justified to an
agent only if
were he
reasonable and
adequately
informed, then
he would have
a sufficient
reason from his
own
perspective to
support it.
Given this weaker,
counterfactual
construal of what
makes for morally
permissible coercion,
the argument from
respect needn’t
undermine the
legitimacy of the state’s
using coercion to
protect basic liberal
commitments. For we
can always construe
those counterfactual
conditions in such a
way that those who in
fact reject basic liberal
commitments would
affirm them if they were
more reasonable and
better informed. In that
case, using coercion to
ensure that they
comply with basic
liberal commitments
would not be to
disrespect them. If this
is correct, the prospect
of there being figures
such as Qutb, who
reject the right to
religious freedom, need
not undermine the
legitimacy of the state’s
coercively imposing
basic liberal
commitments on a
religiously pluralistic
population.
Liberal critics find this
response
unsatisfactory. After
all, if this alternative
construal of the
argument is to
succeed, it must be the
case not only that:
Were an agent
such as Qutb
reasonable and
adequately
informed, he
would have
sufficient
reason from his
own
perspective to
support
coercive laws
that protect the
right to
religious liberty;
but also:
Every coercive
law that
protects basic
liberal
commitments is
such that
adequately
informed and
reasonable
secular citizens
would have a
sufficient
secular reason
to support it.
These two claims,
however, are highly
controversial. Let us
consider the first.
Were we to ask Qutb
whether he would have
reasons to support
laws that protect a
robust right to
religious freedom if he
were adequately
informed and
reasonable, surely he
would say: no.
Moreover, he would
claim that his
compatriots would
reject the liberal
protection of such a
right if they were
adequately informed
about the divine
authorship of the
Quran and the proper
rules of its
interpretation. While
Qutb’s say-so doesn’t
settle the issue of who
would believe what in
improved conditions,
liberal critics maintain
that his response
indicates just how
complicated the issue
under consideration is.
Among other things, to
establish that Qutb is
wrong it seems that
one would have to
deny the truth of
various theological
claims on which Qutb
relies when he
determines that he
would reject the right
to religious freedom
were he adequately
informed and
reasonable. That would
require advocates of
the standard view to
take a stand on
contested religious
issues. However,
liberal critics point out
that defenders of the
standard view have
been wary of explicitly
denying the truth of
religious claims,
especially those found
within the major theistic
religions.
Turn now to the
second claim. Some
liberal critics of the
standard view, such as
Nicholas Wolterstorff,
maintain that at the
heart of liberal
democracy is the claim
that some coercive
laws function to protect
inherent human rights.
Wolterstorff further
argues that attempts to
ground these rights in
merely secular
considerations fail.
Only by appeal to
explicitly theistic
assumptions,
Wolterstorff argues,
can we locate an
adequate justification
for the ascription of
these rights (see
Wolterstorff 2008, Pt.
III as well as Perry
2003). What would a
reasonable and
adequately informed
secular citizen make of
Wolterstorff’s
arguments? Would he
endorse them?
It’s difficult to say.
Liberal critics maintain
that we are simply not
in good epistemic
position to judge the
reasons an agent
would have to support
laws that protect basic
liberal commitments
were he better
informed and more
reasonable. More
exactly, liberal critics
maintain that we are
not in a good epistemic
position to determine
whether a secular
agent who is
reasonable and better
informed would
endorse or reject the
type of theistic
commitments that
philosophers such as
Wolterstorff claim
justify the ascription of
natural human rights.
The problem is that we
don’t really have any
idea how radically a
person would change
his views were he to
occupy these
conditions. The main,
and still unresolved,
question for this
version of the
standard view, then, is
whether there is some
coherent and non-
arbitrary construal of
the relevant
counterfactual
conditions that is
strong enough to
prohibit exclusive
reliance on religious
reasons but weak
enough to allow for the
justification of basic
liberal commitments

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