Democracy has come under pressure in many countries in recent years. Authoritarian tendencies, populism and the cult of leadership threaten pluralistic societies in Europe and other parts of the world. But democracy is more than just a method of finding a majority; it is inextricably linked to the fight against oppression and injustice in all contexts of life. Especially in times of democratic crisis, it is necessary to focus on its core aspects. The political thinking of French philosopher and writer Albert Camus, who died in 1960, offers the basis for a redefinition of democracy that is linked to and dependent on rebellion. From his reflections, a radical theory of democracy can be derived that is based on the absurdity of the world, its incompleteness, revolt and resistance to authoritarianism, on doubt, dialogue and foreignness.
A Democratic Theory Inspired by Albert Camus
Recent discussions by Martha Nussbaum and Steven Wall shed new light on the concept of reasonableness in political liberalism and whether the inclusion of epistemic elements in the concept necessarily makes political liberalism lose its antiperfectionist appeal. This article argues that Nussbaum’s radical solution to eliminate the epistemic component of reasonableness is neither helpful nor necessary. Instead, adopting a revised understanding of epistemic reasonableness in terms of a weak view of rationality that is procedural, external and second-order rather than a strong view that is substantial, internal and first-order can help political liberalism maintain an epistemic dimension in the idea of reasonableness without becoming perfectionist. In addition, political liberalism can defend a stronger account of respect for persons against liberal perfectionism on the basis of the revised understanding of epistemic reasonableness. Both arguments serve to demonstrate the strength of the political liberal project.
In two recent articles I offered a solution to an old problem in Kant’s account of the categorical imperative, that of finding a unitary interpretation of all four of the Groundwork’s applications of the Formula of the Law of Nature (FLN). In this article I bring out the unity of this solution and defend the principle of suitability interpretation of FLN from objections raised by Samuel Kahn.
Revisiting Arendtian Forgiveness in the Politics of Reconciliation
The idea of forgiveness is omnipresent in the transitional justice literature, yet this body of work, taken as a whole, is marked by conceptual, terminological and argumentative imprecision. Equivocation is common, glossing moral, theological, therapeutic and legal considerations, while arguments proceed from political, apolitical and even antipolitical premises. With forgiveness as a praxis linked to reconciliation processes in at least ten countries, concerns have grown over its negative implications for the relationship between the state and victims of state-authored injustices. Many of these debates reference Hannah Arendt. Drawing from a range of Arendt’s published and unpublished work, this article challenges the academic claim that forgiveness has no place in the politics of reconciliation. Through this ‘returning to the source’, it presents a promising mode of thinking about political forgiveness in contemporary Settler-colonial states.
Value monists and value pluralists disagree deeply. Pluralists want to explain why moral life feels frustrating; monists want clear action guidance. If pluralism is true, our actions may be unable to honour irredeemably clashing values. This possibility could prompt pessimism, but the ‘avoidance approach’ to pluralism holds that although values may conflict inherently, we can take pre-emptive action to avoid situations where they would conflict in practice, rather like a child pirouetting to avoid the cracks on a pavement. Sadly, this view is hostage to epistemic problems and unforeseen consequences and is liable to generate timidity. It rests on the intuition that honouring values in action is more important than doing so in other ways, but this is a premise we have reason to reconsider.
Contra the prevalent way of thinking about the dirty-hands problem, this article suggests that dirty hands need not necessarily entail suffering and that a politician who does not suffer for his dirty-handed acts should not be cast as a bad politician. In so doing, the article: (i) argues that the connection between DH and suffering is unsatisfactorily totalising and rests on a contentious conception of conflict as a dysfunction and (ii) develops an alternative account of the good dirty-handed politician, which is associated with what proponents of the prevalent view of the problem find impossible: calm acceptance of – even indulgence in – one’s dirt. This recognition has important implications for our contemporary culture of contrition and for the way we evaluate the characters of our politicians.
This paper considers three arguments by David Shugarman and Maureen Ramsay for why dirty hands cannot be democratic. The first argues that it is contradictory, in principle, to use undemocratic means to pursue democratic ends. There is a conceptual connection between means and ends such that getting one’s hands dirty is incompatible with acting in accordance with democratic ends. The second claims that using dirty-handed means, in practice, will undermine democracy more than it promotes it and therefore cannot be justified. The final criticism states that politicians with dirty hands are a sign that politics is no longer meeting the criteria necessary to be called democratic. The paper shows that such rejections of democratic dirty hands are based on misunderstandings of the nature of dirty hands and democratic politics.
Climate action is conventionally framed in terms of overcoming epistemic and practical disagreement. An alternative view is to treat people’s understandings of climate change as fundamentally pluralistic and to conceive of climate action accordingly. This paper explores this latter perspective through a framework of philosophical psychology, in particular Bernard Williams’s distinction between internal and external reasons. This illuminates why the IPCC’s framework of ‘Reasons for Concern’ has an inefficacious relationship to people’s concerns and, hence, why additional reason giving is required. Accordingly, this paper recommends a model of truthful persuasion, which acknowledges the plurality of people’s motivations and sincerely strives to connect the facts of climate change to people’s subjective motivational sets.
Stuart Hampshire and the Normality of Conflict
By way of an engagement with the thought of Stuart Hampshire and his account of the ‘normality of conflict’, this article articulates a novel distinction between two models of value pluralism. The first model identifies social and political conflict as the consequence of pluralism, whereas the second identifies pluralism as the consequence of social and political conflict. Failure to recognise this distinction leads to confusion about the implications of value pluralism for contemporary public ethics. The article illustrates this by considering the case of toleration. It contends that Hampshire’s model of pluralism offers a new perspective on the problem of toleration and illuminates a new way of thinking about the accommodation of diversity as ‘civility within conflict’.
Responding to Dirty Hands in Politics
How should citizens respond to dirty-hands acts? This issue has been neglected in the theoretical literature, which has focused on the dilemma facing the politician and not on the appropriate responses of citizens. Nevertheless, dirty-hands scenarios pose a serious dilemma for the democratic citizens as well: we cannot simply condone the dirtyhanded act but should instead express our moral condemnation and disapproval. One way of doing this is through blame and punishment. However, this proposal is unsatisfactory, as dirty-hands agents commit wrongdoing through no fault of their own. I argue that we ought to make conceptual space for an idea of no-fault responsibility – and a corresponding notion of no-fault forgiveness – according to which we can hold agents to obligations without blaming them.