Value Pluralism and the Challenges of Freedom
1:30pm – 3:00pm
William Galston, Professor, School of Public Affairs and Director, Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, University of Maryland; Director, Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE)
Stephen Macedo, Professor of Politics and Director, Center for Human Values, Princeton University
Nicholas Wolterstorff, Professor of Philosophical Theology, Yale University Divinity School
E.J. Dionne, Jr., Senior Fellow, the Brookings Institution and Co-chair, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
E.J. DIONNE: Today we are going to be having a fundamentally philosophical conversation, so the fact that so many of you would turn out for it is first a tribute to you and second a tribute to Bill and our distinguished panel, and I’ll get to that. But it is in particular a tribute to Kayla Drogosz, and I just want to thank Kayla for working so hard to make sure that the word of this event got out.
When we started the planning I said, if we get 30, 40 people for an event like this in Washington that would be amazing and Kayla said nope, we’re going to get a hundred or more and she succeeded and I just want to thank Kayla so much. And while I am thanking people I also very much want to thank the Pew Forum: Melissa Rogers, Kirsten Hunter, Heather Morton, Amy Sullivan, Sandy Stencel. I want also to thank here at Brookings Christina Counselman, Doug Wilson, Jung Ju, Gina Russo, Colin Johnson, Fred Dews and Gary Harding. This is a co-production of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life and the Brookings Institution.
I also want to offer a special welcome to Bill’s wife Miriam, who is here today, and who is a very serious philosopher in her own right.
I also want to thank Common Cause, the University of Maryland, and Will Marshall of the Progressive Politics Institute. Will always jokes that when I quote certain people in his organization I describe them as moderate and when I quote him I describe the organization as center right, which is not fair at all to Will, a genuine progressive, but thank you for your help. When I called Will, he said I will do anything for Bill Galston and that’s how a lot of us feel.
I am always interested when the Weekly Standard describes a liberal as exemplary. Those of you who have seen the Weekly Standard this week know that there is really quite a wonderful review of Bill’s book by Peter Berkowitz and this is just proof that while the Weekly Standard may be wrong on a number of subjects – the Florida recount comes to mind – it does get some important things right and it’s a very thoughtful review of this book.
I just wanted to take a couple of lines from it because I think they are right. “Among academic liberals and professional political theorists,” Peter Berkowitz writes, “William Galston is exemplary. In several fine books he has undertaken extensive engagement with the work of his contemporaries. A professor at the University of Maryland, he is a good citizen of his discipline, bridging the divide between the philosophically and empirically oriented students of politics, regularly attending workshops and conferences and commenting generously on the work of others.”
And then he goes on: “Caught between the moralistic relativism of the multi-culturalists and the authority and liberalism of the deliberative democrats” — we’ll have people taking issue with both of these views today — “academic liberalism by the late 1990s was once again in need of a sympathetic and synthesizing perspective, one that could counter its excesses, as well as those of its critics. To a significant extent, William Galston’s book succeeds in providing it.”
And I must say one of my favorites lines, and it probably reflects the mushy side of my politics, Bill writes in the course of this book, “The most difficult political choices are not between good and bad but between good and good.” This is a wise and one might say Isaiah Berlin-ish insight and we’ll be hearing, I’m sure, about Isaiah Berlin today.
This panel itself is exemplary. Bill, as you know, is a political theorist who both studies and participates in American politics. All American presidential campaigns are part of his large participant/observer study of American politics. He was deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy during the first Clinton administration, and executive director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal. He served as director of economic and social programs at the Roosevelt Center for American Policy Studies in Washington. He has worked on many political campaigns, some of them successful. Since 1995 he has served as a founding member of the board of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. He’s chaired the campaign’s task force on religion and public values. He is currently director of the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy. His teaching and research interests include social policy, family policy and also education policy. At the same time he deals with the large philosophical issues that we are discussing today.
In a sense we have critiques from very different points of view to comment on Bill’s book, and we are very grateful for our friendly critics here today. For me the most important thing about Steve Macedo is that he grew up in New Bedford, Massachusetts, 15 miles down the road from Fall River, Massachusetts where I grew up, so I feel a strong kinship. He is the Lawrence S. Rockefeller Professor of Politics and he’s also the director of the Center for Human Values at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including Diversity and Distrust: Civic Education in a Multi-Cultural Society. He is also the author of a book, whose title is almost identical to several of Bill’s books, Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism.
In some ways our discussion today is a continuation of a very long dialogue between Steve Macedo and Bill Galston and we are so grateful that he is joining us today. Dr. Macedo was a professor in the Government Department at Harvard. He also taught at the Maxwell School in Syracuse. He earned his BA at William and Mary, Master’s Degrees at both the London School of Economics and Oxford and his MA and PhD from Princeton, so he has now gone home.
And finally Nicholas Wolterstorff has just retired from his position as the Noel Porter Professor of Philosophical Theology at Yale University, where his primary appointment was at the Divinity School. He also had adjunct appointments in the Philosophy Department and the Religious Studies Department. After receiving his PhD in philosophy from Harvard University he taught for 30 years at Calvin College and came to Yale in 1989. Dr. Wolterstorff has been president of the American Philosophical Association and the Society of Christian Philosophers. He has given the Gifford Lectures at St. Andrews University, one of the truly most distinguished set of lectures anyone can be invited to give, the Wilde Lectures at Oxford – that wouldn’t be Oscar Wilde, would it – and the Taylor Lectures at Yale. He’s written and published widely. His books include John Locke and the Ethics of Belief, Divine Discourse, Faith and Rationality, and, I love this title, When Justice and Peace Embrace. His most recent book is Religion in the Public Square with Robert Audio. And he is now working on a book on justice and rights and he’s going to take a transcript of this conversation and put it right into that new book.
Anyone who knows Bill Galston knows why all of us who know him respect him hugely as an intellect and as a person who’s made a great contribution to our civic life.
Bill, it’s a great honor to have you here today.
WILLIAM GALSTON: It’s a great honor to be here in the presence of so many friends. E.J. has already thanked nearly everybody I would have thanked, so it remains I think for me to thank him for being the guiding and presiding spirit for this afternoon. E.J. has the distinction of being in even more places in an average week than I am and there is very little of significance in contemporary Washington, DC that he is not involved in, in some way.
One of the distinguished members of the audience, Amitai Etzioni, wrote an article many years ago, which he may have forgotten but which I remember, in which he remarked in part that Washington doesn’t have a great university but Washington is a great university.
And I think he meant by that occasions such as today where our political and public life and the life of the mind managed to cohabit, if not quite on terms of intimacy at least in terms of mutual respect and I hope mutual gain as well.
Let me just make one other introductory comment and that is that E.J. referred in his introduction to the review of my book in this week’s Weekly Standard, which came as quite a shock to me, and he did not say that when Peter Berkowitz called my book “exemplary” it was exemplary not only of what’s good about academic and political liberalism but also of what’s bad.
Finally, those of you in the audience who are not academics may not be fully aware of the extent to which today’s commentators are truly a dream team. I’m not saying this to butter them up. They have long since written their remarks. But they were my first choices for this panel not because I expect them to agree with this book but because I know from personal and professional experience what good, careful, scrupulous and civil critics they are and I think we can expect nothing but illumination from their disagreement.
I thought for a long time about how to introduce this book to this kind of audience. It is a small book about big ideas. It resists easy summary. And so it seems to me that the best thing I can do is to try to explain to you why I wrote this book. I suspect that some of the details of what I said will come out in the commentaries and in the colloquy. I will try to answer my self-administered question with four points or four observations, and here’s the first:
I wrote this book in part to wrestle with the following question: Is it possible to offer a principled account of liberal democracy that will be morally and intellectually acceptable both to citizens of faith and to citizens of no faith? Is there a principled middle way between aggressive secularism on the one hand and the theocratic temptation on the other? And if so, what is it?
I formulate and respond to this question against the backdrop of history, which is well known to all of you. The French Revolution was disfigured, and I believed derailed and even destroyed, by its failure to arrive at a satisfactory answer to that question. What you had was nearly two centuries of warfare between militant, secularist anti-clericalism on the one hand and an aggrieved church on the other. One of the principle motives of Tocqueville’s Democracy in America was to explain to the French how they could avoid this political and cultural impasse.
This impasse was not devoid of resonance in the United States of my youth where a strong secularist thrust in the 1960s and the 1970s produced a very strong quasi-theocratic counter-reaction starting in the late 1970s and gathering strength in the 1980s. One of the many failed presidential campaigns that I’ve participated in was Walter Mondale’s campaign where I was his issues director for two and a half years and one of my strongest experiences during that period was the experience of seeing enraged Christians mobilized into politics against what they saw – whether rightly or wrongly, we can debate – as the secularist excess of the Democratic Party and its legal and philosophical defenders.
Much of my work in the past 20 years has been an effort to find a principled middle way between militant secularism on the one hand and what I’m calling the theocratic temptation on the other. This book is an effort to continue that march.
Here is the second consideration that led me to write this book. As I thought about a defense of liberal democracy within what I’m calling this principled middle way, it seemed to me, and has seemed to me for a long time, that it had to be considered within a broader account of the nature of the legitimate exercise of political power. I argue that the legitimacy of political power and its exercise is a function of two considerations: First, the structure of public decision-making and second, the scope of that decision-making. Encoded and encapsulated in the phrase “liberal democracy” is a very particular response to both of these conditions of legitimacy.
The noun “democracy” refers to the structure of public decision-making that gives legitimacy to those decisions. Democratic, or in Madison’s sense “republican,” decisions are legitimate when they are made by institutions that derive their authority either directly or indirectly from the people. So in that sense, in Madison’s sense, the Supreme Court is a republican institution in just the same sense that the Congress of the United States is a republican institution and partakes of the same source of legitimacy.
The adjective “liberal” doesn’t refer to generosity or openhandedness or even open-mindedness. It refers to the scope of the legitimate exercise of public power. It refers to a form of government in which the exercise of public power is limited by principled as well as prudential considerations.
The legislative branch of a liberal democracy – unlike the Athenian Forum – is not potentially or actually plenipotentiary. Let me give you some examples of this drawn from our constitutional history. The most perfectly democratic process of deliberation and voting could not legitimately lead to the establishment of a particular faith. Similarly, the most legitimate process of democratic deliberation and voting could not, as the Supreme Court declared in 1925, allow a state to outlaw a system of parochial schools and require that all children within its jurisdiction attend public schools only. Nor, the Supreme Court declared a generation later, can any state or any instrumentality of a state require children as a condition of attending public schools to swear or attest to something contrary to their conscience. That was the case involving Jehovah’s Witnesses’ children in the West Virginia school system in the famous case of West Virginia v. Barnett where at the height of the Second World War the Supreme Court declared that it was unconstitutional to require them to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance as a condition of public school attendance; a good law to this day.
Now, my method in this book is to take seriously features of our Constitution, just as the ones that I’ve just laid out, and to try in today’s parlance to connect the dots and ask what sorts of principles could explain the intuition that if even a democratic polity establishes a religion or abolishes parochial schools or requires children to profess something contrary to conscience that it has gone too far, it has exceeded the legitimate scope of its authority.
Well, how to do this? This brings me to my third point and here I’m going to have to descend to a bit of philosophy and also a bit of my own intellectual itinerary.
As a young man I was a passionate reader of the man that I still believe was the greatest philosopher in the history of the human race, namely Aristotle. I passionately read and reread in particular two of Aristotle’s books, the Nicomachean Ethics, which culminated in, after a dialectical path, an account of a single way of life as the highest and best for human beings, and Politics, which begins and proceeds through and ends with a conception of the political community as the highest and most comprehensive form of human association, one that rightly incorporates and directs the activities of all other human associations. These seemed to me very important and potentially persuasive claims when I was young.
As I’ve reflected on these two critical Aristotelian claims over the better part of three decades of scholarly activities I’ve begun to doubt them more and more. Let me spend a minute talking about these doubts.
In the first place, what if Aristotelian style arguments for a single human good in the last analysis aren’t persuasive? What if our moral experience, subjected to the most scrupulous examination and criticism we can muster, inclines us to believe rather that there are numerous ways of life that can be characterized as morally legitimate, as choice-worthy, even commendable?
In thinking about that question I was drawn more than I expected to be, when I was young, towards the concept of value pluralism, which was laid out most memorably by Isaiah Berlin, an account of the moral universe that we happen to inhabit — it might have been otherwise but it isn’t according to Berlin — a universe in which the distinction between good and bad is objective; this is not a picture of moral relativism but when we examine the goods of human life we see that they are multiple, they are qualitatively heterogeneous, they are not reducible to a common metric of value and they are not hierarchically arranged.
What, if that, is the structure of the moral universe we inhabit? That is an alternative both to relativism but also to Aristotelian style hierarchy of human value and human good. So that was my first doubt about the central claim of Aristotle’s Ethics.
What about the central claim of Aristotle’s Politics? Here was my question about that: What if the claims of other forms of human association, such as family association, voluntary groups, faith communities or even the claims of individual activities such as scientific research or philosophical contemplation or acts of faith and conscience, what if these associations and activities aren’t always for all purposes subordinate to the purposes and therefore the authority of the political community? What if that is a more accurate picture of the nature of politics and its place in human life?
And that question generated a movement in my mind towards a different kind of pluralism, compatible with value pluralism but dealing with a different range of questions, a form of pluralism that I call and I’m not original in calling it political pluralism, an idea of human social life that contains multiple centers and sources of legitimate authority with politics having a distinctive place and a distinctive role but it is not always a dominant role relative to competing claims.
There are various sources of this kind of idea. There are hints of it in the Catholic doctrine of subsidiarity. There are other kinds of hints of it in the British pluralist tradition of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries that made its way into the United States through the thought of Harold Lasky and people of that sort, and there are also — this is my most recent and fascinating discovery — there is a well developed doctrine of political pluralism in the Calvinist tradition, particularly that version of the Calvinist tradition that seems to me to have been developed in the 19th and 20th Century and which Professor Wolterstorff could probably deliver a wonderful series of impromptu lectures on, if only we had the time.
Now, these considerations in turn led me to reflect on the idea, an idea that goes all the way back to the Greeks, the idea of the regime, understood as the ensemble of principles and institutions that provide the basic structure and form of a political community. In the United States this ensemble of principles and institutions could probably be located in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, along with its tradition of interpretation, and a handful of Abraham Lincoln’s greatest speeches. But every form of political community, according to this idea, has its own distinctive regime, understood as an ensemble of principles and institutions that give the basic form or structure to that community.
Here was my question about that, and it’s a question that in a way translates the issue of political pluralism into practical and even legal as well as sociological terms: Does the regime, these basic principles and institutions, go all the way down or all the way through the community? Must regime-level principles and institutional structures characterize every association and every activity within that community? And if they don’t, what should the response of political authorities be? Should political authorities attempt to teach these principles or should they go farther and attempt to enforce those principles through coercion, if necessary?
Now, I want to suggest that liberal democracy, as I understand it, offers a distinctive answer to the regime question and that answer is “no.” The principles and structures that define the regime do not have to and indeed for many purposes may not go all the way down or all the way through everything else.
Or to put this slightly differently, there are activities and associations outside the scope of legitimate liberal democratic public authority that may take on a variety of forms, guided by a range of principles, some of which we may rightly regard as illiberal and non-democratic but which we may not coercively eliminate by virtue of those characteristics.
Let me give you a couple of recent examples here: We have employment discrimination laws – and it’s a good thing that we do – but would we apply those employment discrimination laws to religiously defined offices and institutions such as the Catholic Church that exclude women from consideration for certain offices within those institutional structures? And if we don’t and if we won’t and if we shouldn’t, why not and what does that tell us?
Or consider the case recently decided by the Supreme Court in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale. The issue, as you’ll recall, was whether the Boy Scouts could legitimately exclude someone whose gay sexual orientation had become a matter of public authority from scouting or were the anti-discrimination laws of the state of New Jersey to trump the claims of the Boy Scouts as a voluntary association. The Supreme Court decided that the claims of the Boy Scouts were to govern that particular controversy, the anti-discrimination laws of the state of New Jersey to the contrary notwithstanding.
If we agree with that decision, and I do as a matter of constitutional law and as a matter of my understanding of a liberal democracy, even if we disagree with the substance of what the Boy Scouts did and hope that the pressure of boycotts by various other portions of civil society will be enough to get them to change their minds, then what does that tell us about the underlying principles of liberal democracy as a regime? Why is it that this regime draws a line and says its principles go this far but no farther?
This brings me to my final concluding point and this is a point that has, I suspect, more resonance inside the community of contemporary political philosophers than it does in the Washington community but I feel compelled to state it for the record.
In this short book about big questions, I have spent time developing what I take to be truth claims about the nature of morality, the nature of politics and the nature of human life. I have argued, for example (and this is the third pole in my philosophical tent), not only in favor of value pluralism and political pluralism but also in favor of a conception of expressive liberty, understood as the capacity not only of individuals but also of associations to act in accordance with their deepest conception of what gives meaning and value to life. This is a conception of integrity, a correspondence between inner conception and outer life, the desire for which has driven groups as diverse as persecuted Jews in 15th century Spain and Portugal and gay Americans in the contemporary United States.
When I put forward ideas like value pluralism, political pluralism, expressive liberty, it’s in virtue of my belief that in developing and justifying a political philosophy, truth matters. And what I mean by that is that you cannot decouple the activity of political philosophy, you cannot decouple a defense of liberal democracy from a broad inquiry into ethics, into the nature of political life, into natural science and much else besides.
So I conclude pugnaciously by saying that ideas such as value pluralism, political pluralism and expressive liberty may well be mistaken and if they are I am sure that the next year or two of commentary will instruct us all on the nature of my mistake. But I insist they are instances of the kinds of truth claims that no political philosophy, or for that matter no public philosophy, can get along without or safely avoid.
Thank you very much.
E.J. DIONNE: I want to thank Bill very much. You know, the words “truth matters” would seem non-controversial; in fact, they can be highly controversial within the academy and maybe even, I suppose, within journalism.
Steve, it’s a great pleasure to have you here.
STEPHEN MACEDO: Thank you very much indeed. Thanks very much to the organizers, to Brookings and E.J. and his staff and to the Pew Forum for this excellent occasion.
Bill Galston and I have had many years of conversation on these topics and mainly in far more purely academic fora. He is truly an exemplary citizen, as Peter Berkowitz said, in two realms – both practice and in theory – and it’s wonderful to have this occasion to come here and talk about his excellent book.
There’s very much that I agree with in the book; we would just have differences of emphasis. And so in order to use my time to provoke rather than to flatter I’m going to emphasize the differences of emphasis that Bill and I would have and then give him an opportunity to discuss this more in the discussion. This is obviously no substitute for reading the book and it is an excellent book and I think it’s full of wonderful, good sense.
What I want to emphasize is the fundamental claim that Bill advances in the book that his is a liberalism grounded in value pluralism, as he puts it, a liberalism, a pluralism in which much greater emphasis should be put on diversity and respect for diversity in the face of potentially overweening commitments to public values. He seems to say that there’s a danger of liberals and liberal Democrats taking their public purposes so seriously as to not give adequate weight to the values of diversity and, in particular, to the values of religiously based diversity. That, presumably, is a danger in our own politics that calls for a recognition of the fundamental importance of value pluralism and for the introduction of a fundamental principle in our politics, a generalizable presumption, he argues, in favor of deferring. So a maximum feasible accommodation of diversity, as he puts it, should be a watchword in public policy.
Now, I want to take issue with, first of all, the invocation of value pluralism and its usefulness as a reference point in debates about public policy in the United States. It seems to me that Bill has taken this claim from Isaiah Berlin, which was advanced in a very different context and I think it’s a claim of limited usefulness in debates about things like school reform, the debate about school choice and public schooling and so on. I think there’s a danger in using value pluralism to argue for this principle of maximum feasible accommodation of diversity.
Because what I really liked about Bill’s arguments and this emphasis on pluralism, as E.J. mentioned, is this judicious, sensible, broadminded emphasis that many public policy debates are goods versus goods, that there are important values on both sides of these public policy debates. There’s a tendency sometimes among winners, perhaps the politically powerful, to discount the values on the losing side, the values that are represented by minorities, cultural minorities, perhaps religious minorities; but in any case the values on the winning side. Pluralism is first and foremost a way of highlighting the importance of taking seriously the multiple values on multiple sides of complex public policy questions. I agree with that. I think it’s extremely useful and I think that it’s a true statement about the difficult debates that we face in public policy today.
What worries me, however, is that the introduction of this other principle, this principle of maximum feasible accommodation of diversity, sort of cuts right through that emphasis on complexity, the importance of values on both sides of public policy debates. In some sense, it puts a heavy finger on one side of the scale and could obviate the importance of this careful weighing and this sensitivity to complexity in favor of deferring as a generalizable, perhaps strong, presumption to the demands of diversity when they’re in conflict with a whole variety and indeed the entire range of civic and public purposes.
So indeed it seems to me that as far as this substance of principle that Bill wants to put forward as a fundamental principle, he doesn’t say whether it should be judiciously enforceable but he does invoke the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as an instance of this more generalizable principle. This was meant to be a judiciously enforceable principle that would require policymakers to defer to religious groups in society who claim that they bear a substantial burden as a consequence of the application of laws of general applicability, that they should defer to the claims of religious groups. Bill wants to generalize that to cultural as well as religious groups to make it fairer but broader by applying it not only to religious groups. It seems to me this very broad substantive principle of practical deference to diversity flies in the face of the very sensible emphasis on the complexity of the debates we face in public policy, and it seems to me poorly grounded in the fundamental philosophy of value pluralism in any case.
I’ll elaborate on that very briefly but that sort of gives a sense of where I’m going. I like the practical emphasis on complexity and so on.
One thing I do want to emphasize is that when Isaiah Berlin invoked this theory of value pluralism what he had in mind, of course, were the great totalitarian tyrannies of the 19th and 20th centuries. It was Jacobinism and Robbes Didier, Communism and Stalin, Nazism and Hitler, utopian political visions that justified horror and political tyranny. And against those sorts of utopian political fantasies that pursued relentlessly and inhumanely visions of political perfection, as Berlin would put it, without regard for the cost, this theory of value pluralism, the emphasis on the conflict among values and the impossibility of wrapping up all political values in one harmonious scheme surely had some purchase and was an extremely important and powerful assault on these various forms of utopianism in politics and those were the final solutions, and he didn’t mean rhetorically, Berlin meant final solutions, murder and all.
Now, the question is what purchase does this philosophy of pluralism have when it comes to policy debates in the United States of the sort that we face about the role of faith-based institutions and the delivery of social services with respect to whether religious schools ought to be able to take part in schemes that would devolve public dollars to non-public schools for the delivery of educational services and so on.
I don’t think value pluralism as a fundamental philosophy has purchase on that at all, because I think it’s common ground among virtually all people in these debates. There are multiple values at stake here; for example, that parents have some claim to educate their children certainly at home, and certainly outside the schools but there are very few people who are arguing that Pierce v. Society of Sisters should be overruled at the Supreme Court level (that allows parents to pull their children out of public schools and send them to private schools.) Virtually every one in this debate acknowledges that the state has some role to play, has some legitimate value claim here and virtually everybody acknowledges that children have some independent interests of their own that also need to be taken into account.
So everybody who accepts those claims, that there is some claim in each of these different categories, accepts value pluralism, and value pluralism says nothing, as Bill himself acknowledges in the book, about how those different categories of value should be weighed. I would say that that is the case with respect to all of the public debates that we face in the United States today. So I don’t see value pluralism having much purchase.
But as a most abstract theoretical matter on the basis of value pluralism Bill says he generally opposes bright lines and lexical priorities. He accuses John Rawls of being a monist, which is the opposite of a pluralist; I don’t think this is quite right, but in any case he wants to avoid sweeping generalizations because of this complexity of value and because of the plurality of value and so on.
But as I said before, given that, I don’t understand why we should accept as a substantive addition to the repertoire of public principles in the United States that are fundamental, this emphasis on maximum feasible accommodation of diversity, though it qualifies this in two ways by saying the state should be free to pursue its core public purposes but that these should be narrowly defined, so security, public security of various sorts, some sort of minimal social security, and that groups should be deferred to only if they’re non-oppressive, if they don’t tyrannize over their members.
Having satisfied these two qualifications, and they have to be fairly narrow qualifications if the principle itself is to have any scope and meaning, then there is this principle of maximum feasible accommodation to diversity.
Now, as I said before, if you’re a pluralist I don’t see why you should introduce this generalizable presumption into public policy debates. I don’t see why you shouldn’t prefer recognizing that parental purposes, religious purposes, public purposes, the interest of children, equity and so on often come into conflict and that these things should be sorted out at retail not dealt with in a sweeping way at wholesale.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which Bill gestured towards, as I said, would have been a very strong presumption, at least in theory if taken seriously. It would have required the court to enforce this principle of deference with respect to religious groups claiming exemption. Bill would presumably generalize that.
So it seems to me this would be a prescription, if taken seriously, for chaos. It would require, for instance, that zoning ordinances, when they impose burdens on churches seeking to expand and so on, would be required to defer to the interest of churches. But they would not only be required to defer to churches, of course, but all cultural groups and ways of life would be able to claim deference from their own points of view if they find themselves running afoul of bearing special burdens on account of the whole repertoire of generalizable laws and public policy.
The problem is that this would be a fundamental problem for democracy. It’s not so much that we’re against liberty when it comes to these areas. But this would potentially disable the capacity of democratic legislatures to deliberate about the public good in these areas by placing a big, heavy finger on the scales of public policy from the point of view of the claims of diversity and particularity vis-à-vis all of the other goods that might come into play.
I don’t think the debate about school vouchers should be short-circuited in that way and I don’t think the debate about charitable choice should have been short-circuited in that way. There presumably should be a very strong presumption in favor of funding religious schools as well as public schools if we take this principle seriously. There presumably should be a very strong presumption in favor of allowing religious institutions to deliver social welfare services and so on.
Part of the problem here is that I’m not sure if Bill always distinguishes between various forms of ways in which government shapes private associations. There is, of course, the criminal law and things like anti-discrimination law that would presumably impose civil sanctions, possibly criminal sanctions on institutions that discriminate, though no one’s talking about applying gender anti-discrimination laws at the Catholic Church. That’s the least of the Catholic Church’s legal worries at the moment. But there are those sorts of interventions, which one might worry about but there are all kinds of things that the law does, which might be regarded as interferences, including choices to subsidize or not to subsidize, and again the decision to subsidize public schools. To favor public schools but not subsidize religious schools could be seen as a burden — I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be seen as a burden, and I don’t think, however, that that aspect of public policy ought to have to answer to the obstacle of a very heavy presumption in favor of maximum feasible accommodation of diversity.
Now I think what’s going on in the book is that Bill is reminding us of the dangers of majority tyranny, that there may be a tendency in democratic politics to shortchange the interests of the losing side. Sometimes these will be religious groups, sometimes they’ll be cultural groups and so on. I think that that’s a real danger, but I don’t think that our public life is so systematically tilted against the value of diversity as to warrant the creation of a new fundamental principle such as that of maximum feasible accommodation of diversity, certainly not on the basis as I say about the hypothetical warnings about the Catholic Church being charged with gender discrimination. It seems to me that associative freedom is alive and well and I don’t see the need for this fundamental principle.
So the two fundamental questions I have are that I’m not sure I see the linkage between the very abstract theory of value pluralism and practical consequences for American public policy and I’m not so sure that I agree with the emphasis on this accommodation of diversity as a fundamental aspect of public policy. I did think it was revealing in Bill’s introductory remarks that he said that his motive for the book was to find a principled middle way between civic liberalism and the theocratic temptation, that if liberals and democrats give inadequate deference to true believers there’s a danger of reaction against secularist excesses.
If that’s the worry then that’s the argument that should be made. Value pluralism doesn’t seem to me the right response. This is a practical, pragmatic danger that we’re courting disaster if we don’t accommodate religious believers. I’m not sure what else we could do to accommodate religious believers. I think religious believers in general are pretty well accommodated in this country. But if that’s what you think then there is a very political argument, and I think that one ought to make the political argument as a political argument. If the message is that we should give more weight, defer to religious communities because of the dangers of the theocratic reaction, why don’t we just make that argument? And I don’t think we need Isaiah Berlin to do that.
I’ve tried to be as provocative as possible against his excellent book. Bill and I have disagreed at the margins for years but in fact the vast majority of this I agree with and I appreciate the opportunity to hold forth probably in an unfair way about this excellent book.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you very much. I know that Bill and Stephen have argued very specifically on matters – related to the schools, for example – and I think opening up that issue during the question period might shed some light here. It’s a great honor to have you, Dr. Wolterstorff. Thank you very much.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: Let me also say that it’s both an honor and a pleasure to be invited here to comment on this new book by Bill Galston, in which important issues are raised. It’s a lucid and provocative book, and I don’t use those words as words of conventional praise but mean them with full sincerity, his book that he calls Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice. Of all those important issues today I can only skim the surface of them.
Now, I assume that not many of you have had a chance to read the book. Bill introduced his comments by saying that it’s not easily summarized, but what I did here when I was sitting at home, before I knew what he would do, was summarize it. And I think it might help to have a somewhat different take on the same book, so I’ll begin with a short summary of what I found in it.
Most of you here in this audience will be aware of the work in liberal political theory by the Harvard philosopher John Rawls. Rawls places his reflections in the context of the fact that in the contemporary world every society with a liberal polity is characterized by the embrace by its citizens of a diversity of religious and philosophical perspectives on the good and the right – Rawls calls them comprehensive perspectives.
So Rawls’s fundamental question for his mature reflections on political philosophy becomes this question: How should the members of a liberal polity conduct their public discussions about fundamental political issues and how should they form their decisions on such matters when they embrace a diversity of comprehensive perspectives?
The fact that all societies with liberal polities of which we know are characterized by a diversity of comprehensive perspectives among the citizenry also enters into Bill Galston’s discussion but it’s not, in fact, what’s up front in his discussion, at least not the way I read it.
Instead what’s up front is what is to my mind an equally important feature. It is that in all such societies we can distinguish the polity from what has come to be called the civil society, and secondly that civil society contains, in his words, “multiple independent, sometimes competing sources of authority over our lives.” And furthermore, says Galston, “within this mix of authority political authority is not dominant for all purposes under all circumstances.” Political authority, as he likes to put it, is not plenipotentiary; full plenipotentiary does not have full power.
I guess in the interests of full disclosure I should note that although this feature of contemporary societies with liberal polities is the main context for Bill Galston’s discussion, he seldom calls attention to this fact as such. Most of the time he instead affirms the correlative normative principle that this is how things should be. Political authority in a liberal society should be limited rather than plenipotentiary and that’s the principle that he calls the principle of political pluralism or sometimes the principle of liberal pluralism and hence we get the main title of the book, Liberal Pluralism.
Now, I’m not aware of any thinker in favor of a liberal polity who does, in fact, hold that political authority in a society with such a polity should be plenipotentiary. I suppose that such a society is not an impossibility. I’m thinking of a monarchy governed by a king or queen of extremely liberal impulses, but among the liberties that the monarch would have to grant if the society were to be anywhere near liberal would be the liberty of citizens to form voluntary associations with their own internal modes of authority. And as soon as citizens acted on that liberty the monarch’s authority would no longer be plenipotentiary and so it would be a very fragile and brief-lived experiment.
Here’s my point: Though he intends this principle of political liberalism to have polemical bite, in the form in which he states it, it doesn’t have much bite. I don’t know if anybody who’s in favor of a liberal polity who thinks that the government in such a society should have all the power. But as the discussion proceeds it becomes pretty clear what Bill actually has in mind. It’s not an on/off phenomenon but a continuum.
Governmental authority can be wider or narrower in scope with respect to the institutions of a civil society. It can be more or less invasive. So liberal pluralism is a segment on that continuum. To be a liberal pluralist is to be in favor of relatively limited scope for governmental authority and conversely in favor of relatively expansive scope for the authority of other institutions from civil society.
Accordingly, Galston observes that, “the relationship between voluntary associations and publicly enforced civic norms has emerged as a key point of disagreement among contemporary liberals. Some argue that civic goods are important or fragile enough to warrant substantial state interference with civil association.” You see the comparative terms there.
So to be a liberal pluralist is to be opposed to substantial state interference. A liberal policy should be parsimonious in specifying binding public principles and cautious about employing such principles to intervene in the internal affairs of civil associations. It should – and this is what Stephen Macedo emphasized – pursue a policy of maximum feasible accommodation.
To be a liberal pluralist is also to hold a certain thesis concerning burden of proof, namely in debates over whether the state should or should not intervene in some aspect of civil society the burden of proof is always on the person who holds that it should intervene. Non-intervention is the default position.
Of course you might accept that burden of proof principle and go on to hold that advocates of state intervention very often succeed in bearing the burden. So to put it all together, to be a liberal pluralist is to hold Galston’s burden of proof principle and in addition to hold that the burden isn’t borne successfully very often. From a liberal pluralist point of view, “public institutions must be cautious and restrained” — he means political institutions — “in their dealings with voluntary associations.”
Okay, now Galston is not a liberal anarchist. He thinks that state intervention in the affairs of civil society and in the lives of individuals is not infrequently justified and he offers a helpful typology of justifying reasons, though usually he summarizes them like this: The reasons are the security of individuals and the unity of the polity.
What he spends considerable time arguing against, however, is the view that among the reasons regularly justifying state intervention in some component of civil society — here’s what he argues against — is that that component is not conducting its affairs in accord with the principles of liberal society itself. His example was that some church is not giving men and women equal access to ordination, equal roles in decision-making and so forth.
Now a standard reason offered by those who hold that rather often this is a good reason for state intervention, namely that voluntary association is not conducting its affairs on liberal principles, is that one cannot expect a liberal polity to endure if its members are constantly being schooled in anti-liberal modes of association by the institutes of civil society.
And so Galston’s book, among other things, is a multifaceted answer to this question: To what extent do illiberal or undemocratic voluntary associations engender patterns of conduct, belief and character that weaken liberal democratic polities? And his answer is, to use the Australian lingo, not to worry, not very much, there’s not much carryover.
Galston thinks that behind the worry that non-liberal modes of association threaten the endurance of a liberal polity and more generally behind the inclination of different liberal theorists to position themselves at different places on the political pluralism continuum, there is typically a conflict between two concepts of pluralism. One of these concepts he says arises out of the post-reformation accommodations and the other arises out of the enlightenment. This enlightenment concept of pluralism holds that the state should promote the formation of rashly autonomous individuals. John Stewart Mill and such Emersonian-Dewians as Richard Rorty, are well known examples of those who hold that the state should promote autonomy in its citizenry, whereas that form of post-reformation concept gives pride of place to the honoring of diversity rather than to the cultivation of autonomy.
And Galston comes down emphatically on the side of the honoring of diversity concept. “Liberalism,” as he understands it “requires a robust though rebutable presumption in favor of individuals and groups leading their lives as they see fit within a broad range of legitimate variation in accordance with their own understanding of what gives life meaning and value” whether or not their understanding of what gives life meaning and value includes high valuation of autonomy in general. And he calls that presumption in favor of people acting on their own convictions, he calls that presumption the principle of expressive liberty.
His book is a defensive acclaim that a liberal society should allow its members as wide a scope for their expressive liberty as is compatible with individual security and civic order.
That’s a summary.
Now, at the beginning I said that I would devote a sizable part of my time to this summary because I felt sure that many of you would not have had a chance to read the book. That’s part of why I did it, but let me now be a bit more forthcoming. I’ve also done so because I regard the issues that Galston raises as of great and obvious importance to all of us. And because I agree in good measure with the picture that he articulates of the proper relation between the polity on the one hand and the institutions of civil society on the other, I too think that a state committed to cultivating autonomous individuals, given your and my particular diversity of comprehensive perspectives, is an illiberal state. And I too think that the burden of proof lies on state intervention in the affairs of civil society not the other way around, though I do think that that burden is rather more often borne than Bill apparently does. Nonetheless I locate myself about where he does on that continuum of more and less state intervention in the affairs of civil society.
I’ve got objections here and there. What else would you expect from a member of that contentious lot called philosophers? But I’m not going to get into those now. They’re matters of detail and refinement.
My substantial disagreements with Galston arise over that part of his discussion, which I haven’t said anything about so far, namely over the philosophical case he makes in favor of what he calls liberal pluralism.
Now, when I was sitting at home thinking about this here’s what I said, and having met a good many of you I’m not sure it’s true but I’ll read it anyway and you can decide for yourself. What I said is this:
I fear that this is also that part of his discussion which a good many of you will be the least interested in. It goes off into matters of abstract philosophy – though I happen to know now that some of you are interested in matters of abstract philosophy, and so my response is turning out somewhat unfortunately bland agreement over the things that you are interested in and sparks over the things that you’re not interested in. So what can I do about this other than be brief.
So once again Galston’s overall project in this book is not just to articulate liberal or political pluralism and expressive individualism but to defend it and I think that’s an important project. He defends it by appealing to what he calls value pluralism, as you’ve already heard, and hence we get the book’s full title, Liberal Pluralism: The Implications of Value Pluralism for Political Theory and Practice.
So what’s value pluralism? Well, it’s a rather popular position among moral philosophers nowadays but I’ve never really understood it, and I still don’t I fear, though some of it’s clear. Value pluralism is a set of theses about the objective structure of the good, so it’s not a version of relativism nor of skepticism.
Two theses are central. The first, in Galston’s words, is that goods are “qualitatively heterogeneous.” Well, those words don’t tell us much unless we’re also told what determines whether one good belongs to the same genus as another or to a different genus. Well, unfortunately, neither Bill nor anybody else that I know of says much that I find helpful on this score of how you make up your mind on that matter. He gives some clues to how the value pluralists are thinking by taking note of the examples they give of theories to which they’re opposed, what’s regularly cited as the theory that the only thing that’s of value for its own sake is desire satisfaction and the value pluralists are opposed to a unified theory of that sort. Yeah, but what sort is that?
Now, they’re also opposed to all unified theories whatsoever of the good; for example, to the classic Christian platinist theory recently stated with great cogency by my Yale colleague in the philosophy department Robert Adams that what accounts for something’s goodness is its resemblance to the paradigmatically good being God. Or are they instead opposed only to those theories, which try to reduce the more or less good to a greater or lesser quantity of something, greater or lesser quantity of pleasure. I don’t suppose the Christian Platonist would ever do that.
The second main thesis of the value pluralist is that, in Galston’s words, “Objective goods cannot be fully ranked orders,” and again there are no comprehensive lexical orderings among types of value. “Value pluralists reject the idea of a once and for all priority of some values over others, regardless of circumstances and regardless of the sacrifices of value required. Nor,” he says, “can they accept the idea of a single summum bonum, greatest good, toward which all other goods are somehow directed, though certain partial orderings of goods are possible.” Okay, the second thesis: No totally comprehensive rank ordering, apart from circumstances.
And lastly how do we get from value pluralism to liberal pluralism? That’s the crunch, of course. I’m just going to quote what he says. “Value pluralism suggests that there is a range of indeterminacy within which various choices are rashly defensible, at least in the sense that they all fall above the line of common decency.” I presume he means the unity of the polity and they don’t injure individuals.
“And because there’s no single uniquely rational ordering or combination of such values nobody can provide a generally valid reason binding on all individuals for a particular ranking or combination. There is therefore no rational basis for restrictive policies, political policies, whose justification includes the assertion that there is a unique rational ordering of value. So if value pluralism is correct, then for the state to impose any single solution on some of its citizens is unreasonable.”
I guess Steve Macedo and I have our difficulties with the same point. I think it’s a very interesting argument but it bristles with difficulties and not just the argument but its premises. Galston says that it’s difficult to know what would constitute a definitive case in favor of value pluralism. I, in contrast, find denial of the second thesis of the value pluralist preposterous and the fact that the denial of a thesis is preposterous constitutes a pretty definitive case for the thesis itself.
Ergo the denial of the second thesis says that all values can be combined into a single dominant ordering valid for all individuals of all circumstances. I think that’s preposterous; I don’t know what you think. So much so that I’d really be surprised if anyone had actually held it. So some qualifications are in order. What they might be I’m not exactly sure.
A dominant strand in Judaism, Christianity and Islam poses that there is, in fact, a highest good for all human beings in all circumstances, that highest good consisting and being related rightly to God. Those within these three religions who hold this thesis specify somewhat differently what exactly that right relationship is but that there is a highest good for everyone in all circumstances and that that consists in being related to God in a certain way is, as I say, the conviction of a dominant strand in each of the Abrahamic religions.
Now, I assume but I might be wrong that with this second thesis the value pluralists — apart from circumstances, of no orderings and so forth — mean to deny this claim, no summum bonum. I might be wrong about that. Accordingly, those who hold this theistic view concerning the highest good will not accept the premise of Galston’s argument and in our present day American society I think that’s a large number of people. It might well, in fact, be the majority. If so, then Galston’s argument for liberal pluralism will cut no ice for most Americans.
That doesn’t, in my judgment, deprive it of all interest and importance. Assuming it’s possible to get clear on what value pluralism really is, I would find it intellectually interesting to have an argument for expressive pluralism and political pluralism mounted on the premises of value pluralism, though I’m somewhat dubious that it will work. And if there are quite a few value pluralists around then I’d find it important to have such an argument available since I’m in favor of expressive liberalism and political pluralism and I’d like to have these value pluralists on my side when it comes to politics.
But it’s pretty clear to me that Galston is looking for a line of thought that would not just be interesting to academics like Nick Wolterstorff and persuasive to his fellow value pluralists but that he was looking for a line of thought that would or could seep down into the consciousness of a wide swath of opinion leaders and thus influence social policy in the direction that he and I pretty much favor. But his argument doesn’t achieve that aim.
Whatever its cogency, as such, there are just too many people in our present day society who won’t accept the second at least of its value pluralist premises who think that there is an abiding summum bonum.
Now, maybe we’ve got to live with the reality that there is no one argument for expressive liberalism and political pluralism that will appeal to all comers. I myself am inclined to think that that is the case.
But I do continue to hope that we can do better than construct one that appeals only to what I assume to be might be wrong, that small band of those who do our would accept the premises of value pluralism.
E.J. DIONNE: I know two fine and thoughtful and opinionated journalists who are in the room, Mike Barone and Jonathan Rauch. If you want to jump in at any point I want to invite you to do so. Thank you, Michael.
MIKE BARONE: I’m just wondering, Bill, what the polity should do about private associations whose purpose it is to destroy liberal pluralism, the Communist Party in the 1930s and 1940s, Radical and Wahabist Islamists today, and the Colonials would have added the Catholic Church and the Society of Jesus. Do you discuss this in the book or do you have any thoughts on it?
E.J. DIONNE: I think you just got to the heart of the matter, Mike.
WILLIAM GALSTON: Yes. Well, I do and I do. And I wish I had a lot of time to answer your question but let me be brief.
I am struck by parallels between many of the public discussions we’re having today, agitated discussions in response to an onslaught by followers of particular religions and much of the rhetoric that swirled around in the 19th century in the United States in the face of waves of Catholic immigration. It was alleged by the Protestant majority that Catholics who swore an oath of allegiance, as the Protestants had it, to a foreign power, who were embedded both institutionally and spiritually in an authoritarian, anti-egalitarian, hierarchically profoundly anti-democratic institution could never be assimilated into American liberal democracy.
There was more than a color of truth to those charges. If you read the anti-enlightenment encyclical that popes were issuing on a regular, almost annual basis, throughout the 19th century there’s no doubt about the fact that the Catholic Church was profoundly, doctrinely and institutionally opposed to liberal democracy because it saw a liberal democracy through the prism of the anti-clericalism of the French Revolution. This is one of the reasons I began where I did.
And part of Tocqueville’s Project, which you’ve studied and celebrated, is to say to France and the rest of the world that life doesn’t have to be that way – there was something between militant secularism and the clerical reaction to it.
My view is that through its history the United States has demonstrated an enormous assimilative power even in the face of doctrines and institutions that begin by being fundamentally opposed to it. It does so in part by saying to those groups if you abide by a handful of fundamental civil norms we are big enough to embrace you and to give you the opportunity to proceed from where you are beginning towards a new future that no one can predict but which will be part of our common future. Those fundamental civil norms exclude efforts to overthrow the government of the United States by force or violence or to imperil civil order. They do not exclude teachings, whether in basements of political rallies or in churches or elsewhere that on their face and in fact are incompatible with fundamental norms of the civil order.
So in short I think the United States through most of its history, with a few regrettable aberrations, has proceeded on the basis of an enormous sociological confidence in the assimilative strength of its institutions, a confidence, which in the main has been well grounded.
I would also say that some of the real blots in our national history have come in those moments when we have lost confidence in that assimilative capacity and have assumed that we had to come down like a ton of bricks on a particular group.
This is not an argument in favor of ignoring threats to life and fundamental civil order. It is an argument, and I will make this unabashedly, in favor of saying that in the name of individual security and civil order anything goes. That’s where we’ve gotten in trouble.
STEPHEN MACEDO: There’s something quietly paradoxical in what Bill said. He said we should be confident in the fundamental assimilative power of our cultural, social, political institutions, so it sounds like the disagreement isn’t about the aim of assimilation but the means of assimilation and whether an institution like public schooling, for example, is necessary to that. And in the 19th century actually people did think the Catholics were assimilate-able and that was why they wanted them to go to public schools. It may not have been a fair process but it certainly was a tendency towards assimilation.
I think that in Bill’s own theory of value pluralism is an assimilative structure in a way, and that is that all religious groups that parallel what Nicholas Wolterstorff was saying will be construed as identity groups and will be given freedoms in our society as competing identity groups and ways of life. This is to say that we will respect their equal rights as competing groups in society on the same grounds as other identity groups, as other ways of life and so on. We can’t possibly respect the claims of a religious group that claims to have religious truth on its side and that claims special privileges with respect to political power on that basis, which the 19th century Catholic Church did. Vatican II was an essentially assimilative moment with respect to Catholicism and liberal democracy and I think it was a very important moment.
This doesn’t yield any judgments with respect to the justifiability of public schools and so on but the fact is that making a peaceful, diverse society work requires some deep assimilation. I think Bill and I would agree on this, to the fundamental principles of our regime and a real sort of political work goes on to make that happen. We can take it for granted now if we wish but I think we’re going to be ignoring an historical process, which is important to the success of a liberal democracy. And when Bill says we should have confidence in the assimilative undercurrents of our society I think he’s essentially agreeing with that.
E.J. DIONNE: There is this general view that somehow or other America turns everyone into at least half a Protestant and I know my friends in the Vatican devoutly believe that.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: I take Bill’s position to be that as a matter of empirical fact one just finds people in this society who are not inclined to act on liberal impulses in church and chess clubs and Boy Scouts and so forth, who are perfectly capable of and even defend acting on liberal impulses in the polity. And whatever you make of this division of how people think and act it happens and that strikes me as by and large correct. But that’s a refinement on what I take it you’re saying.
WILLIAM GALSTON: Indeed. Absolutely. And this is a point that’s been made at book length by a political philosopher now at Harvard by the name of Nancy Rosenblum and her book Membership and Morals.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: It may also be true in a way that American society makes Catholics Protestant in general but the relevant thing is that it makes them Protestants in the polity.
E.J. DIONNE: I’d like you and Steve to talk a little bit about the issue of public schools and what their obligations are both to teaching a set of civic values and to honoring your value pluralism. Is there a kind of fundamental divide between you in the role of public institutions particularly the schools in this sphere?
WILLIAM GALSTON: I actually don’t think so. As some of you know, one of the many hats that I wear is as a proponent of civic education in schools and this book doesn’t back away from that commitment any more than my previous ones do. In a way the book is a meditation on the question of what the content of that civic education should be and my position is that the content of civic education makes a difference and that if it is defined too expansively in the wrong way, if it is defined in an aggressively and expansively secularist fashion then it is likely to promote not civic unity but the reverse of civic unity, namely resistance and retreat on the part of those who find that particular definition obnoxious.
I could give all sorts of examples of how that has proceeded in civic education in American schools in the past 20 years. My argument is that we should embrace and insist on civic education rightly understood and rightly understood means precisely understood.
But it’s also my position, and I think Steve and I agree on this, that – granting the continuing constitutional and moral force of the Supreme Court’s 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters that no state or political jurisdiction of the United States may, consistent with the Constitution, abolish private and parochial schools – it is nonetheless the case that everything that purports to be schooling that is consistent with the requirement incumbent on all parents to school their children up until the age typically in each state it’s 16, must comport with certain regulations and certain norms.
The Supreme Court has also said that the power to regulate private and parochial schools is not the power to destroy their distinctive quality. It did that in a decision in the 1930s, which is still good law, and there’s a lot of room for prudential judgment as to what constitutes reasonable regulation as opposed to regulations so intrusive as to override and abolish the distinctive character of those schools.
So I think in all of these respects there is a fundamental framework of agreement but we might disagree fairly ardently about the details.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: But I don’t understand, given this principle of maximum feasible accommodation of diversity, why the burden of proof shouldn’t be on those who would maintain a public school system in the face of objections from religious minorities that such a funding scheme tilts rather seriously against the health of their cultural communities when an alternative would be a regulated voucher system of some sort.
Presumably a regulated voucher system could be argued to be consistent with the minimal requirements of civic stability and order. If so, I don’t see how it would be particularly easy in your scheme to defend a public school system, which would presumably have something to do not with the promotion of basic civic order and so on but perhaps with a broader set of civic virtues of various sorts or civic excellences. Surely those sorts of values, those sorts of political ideals would have to give way to diversity in a public educational policy if this principle of deference to cultural diversity is going to have weight.
WILLIAM GALSTON: First of all the reduction to a regulated voucher system is not a reductio ad absurdum in my judgment, and I don’t know whether it is in yours or not. It used not to be.
And I think that once one gets past that threshold of principle there are all sorts of practical questions involved and by the way there are all sorts of sociological questions involved. There is the very interesting line of empirical research now being conducted into the civic consequences of Catholic schooling. As I read those empirical results they are extremely favorable as to the civic consequences of going to a Catholic school as opposed to a typical public school. You may well come out not only knowing more about the American polity but caring more about it. There is I think a team of researchers at Harvard and elsewhere who are doing very interesting work on that question. It’s much too early to say for sure that that’s the truth of the matter but at least in the materials that I review in the education policy course that I teach every year it seems to be.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: But that seems not be true of the Muslim schools in the Netherlands nowadays. And so whether present-day America is the full sample, full relevant sample is a nice question.
STEPHEN MACEDO: See, but Catholic schools are too easy because the defense of Catholic school is in terms of common values. The best book on this is called Catholic Schooling and the Common Good and the claim is that Catholic schools promote our public values more effectively than public schools. So there’s no tradeoff between civic values and diversity. It would have to be a case where we lose something in terms of civic values if the emphasis on pluralism is going to be mean anything.
The evidence of the Second Evangelical Academy, quite tentative and thin though it is, suggests that they may promote attitudes of intolerance with respect to what’s done in public schools and so on, which would then have to be a tradeoff between our civic values and diversity to generate an interesting case.
E.J. DIONNE: Let me go to the audience. I want to pick up on that, please. And also just so you know we are going to make a transcript available of this, so if you could identify yourselves for the purposes of our transcript, please.
TERRY MATTINGLY: Terry Mattingly at Scripps Howard News Service. About a decade ago a man named Stephen Bates went down to Church Hill, Tennessee and wrote an interesting book called Battleground. And in it he argued quite a bit of documentation that American public schools were slipping out of a tradition of teaching civil toleration, which was that all religions are equal in the eyes of the state and had begun actively teaching what he calls theological toleration, which is that all religious perspectives are equal in the eyes of God and that he thought this was a crucial mistake.
I wanted to know your opinion on the status of that argument and whether you think that’s what a lot of the, shall we call them, religiously orthodox with a small “o” are upset about?
WILLIAM GALSTON: I do talk in this book about the court case that that controversy spawned, the case of Mozert v. Hawkins and Steve Macedo has also commented at length about that case and we disagree on that case. I have argued now for the better part of a decade that it would, consistent with my understanding of our basic civic norms, have been eminently possible – and not only possible but proper – for the public schools in Hawkins County to have come to terms with the claims of the fundamentalist parents as they were initially articulated. And because this is possible and consistent with the basic terms of civil order, it is desirable and even necessary, given my framework of argument.
And Steve Macedo and others have articulated a powerful contrary case. That’s where I come down on that and this is one of several instances where the presumption that I lay down and try to justify in this book I think does some real work.
And by the way, there is an entire chapter in the book for those who are interested on the idea of presumption as in moral and political reasoning and the way these presumptions function as intermediate premises between very general philosophical theories like value pluralism and specific public policy issues.
If I might then let me just comment for a minute on the issue that both Steve and Nick raised on that question and let me summarize it this way: Steve’s position is that value pluralism is true but not useful. Nick’s position, as I understand is, is that value pluralism is useful but not true.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: No, I think it’s both useless and untrue. Because I don’t think you can get from value pluralism — I agree with Steve on this — I don’t think you can get from value pluralism to political pluralism, not to your political pluralism.
WILLIAM GALSTON: This leads to an interesting sociological disagreement as well because Steve’s position sociologically seemed to be that “well, we’re all value pluralists now or nearly all of us are;” that no right thinking person confronted with the idea of a plurality of goods could dissent from that proposition. There may be a handful of non-right thinking people, but they’re in a tiny minority.
And your position articulated in the last paragraph in your paper was that value pluralists are a “small band,” and probably restricted to the benighted denizens of the academy.
Let me just, as a former president once said, let me say this about that. If you believe, some people do and some people don’t, the sociological work that people like Alan Wolfe have been doing on that question, it would appear that not just secularists but a very large number of the self-denominated faithful, including regular church attendees, take an extremely accommodative view of the particular articles of their faith; that is to say when confronted with the propositions of the following form that there is only one true path to God and it’s mine as opposed to a proposition of the form that there are many paths to God. Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent will adopt the second position rather than the first.
So as a sociological matter I don’t think it’s the case that people who will adopt, and I think sincerely intend, this accommodative posture are a beleaguered band confined to the academy. If Wolfe’s sociology is right – I think it’s consistent with Robert Wuthnow’s work and a lot of other work besides – it suggests that there may be more of an audience if translated into public language for this line of argument than the last paragraph of your paper suggested.
But now let me be a little bit more theological and philosophical for a minute. I’m Jewish and I’ve spent an increasing amount of time in recent years exploring Judaism as a tradition of discourse and theology and also practical philosophy applied to particular cases, the cases of controversy. And what I’ve seen in Judaism is what I think is characteristic of any faith that is a living faith that has an institutional embodiment and which is a dialogue over time; namely that it contains within itself forces of pluralization, that every religion is a field of plural goods and principles and that fact may be covered over by invocations of meta principles along the lines of resemblance to God.
But when people fall to arguing within a particular denomination or faith about what a resemblance to God actually amounts to and within that denomination of faith you have multiple accounts of that, each one of which has an authentic purchase within the principles and texts of that faith tradition, then it seems to me that you have evidence from the ongoing institutional history of the church or the faith in favor of the proposition that any faith vital enough to endure over time in the face of the vicissitudes of human existence will embody in some way, shape or form many if not all of the plural goods characteristic of human existence.
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: It’s certainly good that there are all these disputes and it’s not just true of the contemporary world, it’s true of Judaism, Christianity and Islam and other theistic, monistic religions down through the ages but those three especially that there are disputes as to what the best and right relationship to God and so forth is.
But I would be astonished if our sociologists really formulated the question sharply and that the people understood it and the question was, well in your language that there’s no summum bonum for all people at all times. Now, understand what that means, says the sociologist and then he explains it. It implies that for some people having the right relationship to God, whatever that might be, is the most important thing for them but there might very well be other people in other situations for whom that’s not the highest good.
I think that there would be massive numbers of Jews, Christians and Muslims who’d say, “No, I can’t accept that.” “I’m not so clear as to what that right relationship is,” they might quickly add but they wouldn’t be willing to say that it too goes into the mix. And there might be big chunks of human beings around for whom, oh I don’t know, the right relationship to their nation is better than the right relationship to God.
E.J. DIONNE: Let me stop this for a second because we now have a bunch of people with questions. And before we shut down what I’m going to suggest is that we include all the voices in the audience that wanted to jump in. I want to invite one in particular. Christopher Eberly, who is a philosopher at the U.S. Naval Academy, who has recently written a book called Religious Conviction in Liberal Politics. I’d like you to join in at some point.
But having given you warning, let me go to Jonathan Rauch and Melissa Rogers and then a couple of our colleagues on this side of the room. Why don’t we collect all these comments so that we can have some conclusions.
JONATHAN RAUCH: Thanks. Usually people cloak comments in the guise of questions. Given E.J.’s format I’ll cloak what’s actually a question in the guise of a comment since you may or may not get around to answering it.
I wonder if in some sense the work in this book isn’t a luxury for the lucky in the sense that if a country has the good fortune to be a very large country with an immigrant tradition and a pluralist society to begin with then this works, but if, in fact, this model also works for a smaller country that’s more insular, does not have an immigrant tradition and is more homogeneous, France say or a Netherlands and so forth?
I wonder if this book is, in fact, a prescription only for those who are already in the position of being able to enjoy it or if, in fact, you envision liberal pluralism as something that’s good for the world as opposed to just good for America and maybe Australia?
MELISSA ROGERS: I just wanted to ask Professor Macedo about two things that you said in passing that I wanted to explore a little bit more. One of them was that you seemed to say that accommodating these different beliefs and practices in the way that Bill suggests would inexorably lead to a kind of anarchy. And I wanted to test that a little more specifically.
You threw out one example dealing with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, for example. That particular legislation that was declared unconstitutional in part after it was passed. It provided for exemptions for religious observance but only targeted exemptions for religious observance. In other words, if a religious observer had a problem with a general law and they could show that they had a sincere claim that was substantially burdened by the government and not supported by a compelling interest of government then what they got was a targeted exemption for themselves not to have to be subject to the law but not a defeat of the law itself in all its applications.
So I wanted to test that a little bit to say that aren’t there instances in which by providing these targeted exemptions to people that we are able to keep a peaceful order rather than court anarchy?
And then the other point quickly was you also seemed to suggest in passing that people have to give up claims of exclusive truth in religion. You said something about giving up truth claims or that it was somehow dangerous for religious groups to have a truth claim. And maybe I heard you wrong about that, because it seemed to me in our own country by separating church and state and by allowing people to practice as they see fit and have this accommodation for their religion in a targeted way that actually we allow people, such as many Evangelicals, to maintain claims of exclusive truth while being a productive part of a peaceful society.
MARY MULLIN: My name is Mary Mullin. I was wondering if when you presented your book you presented it with people that sort of agreed with you. I agree with you and I’ve traveled and lived in many different countries and I’ve found that if you do present, like you said, different ways to find God that 80 percent of the people would agree with you and in the different countries I’ve lived in I’ve felt that diversity was rather accepted. I was an American and I don’t know why people seemed to think no one liked Americans; they seemed to be very happy that I was an American, very curious about how I believed and so forth.
And I studied in 1986 in a school in the Cambridge, Boston area and I wrote a paper about diversity and how wonderful and enriching it was for so many different ways of thinking in religion and culture and so forth and how good it was for mental health for a society as well because if they were living one way and that was not suitable for them they could be within the structure of the society living another way that made them feel more comfortable.
And the shocking result of this paper was that people told me in that area that I had opened a can of worms, and I was so taken aback from it and the response from this I didn’t realize that Americans felt that way. Maybe they weren’t all Americans. I just didn’t want to throw this out to you and spoil anything that you’ve been saying but I was really very, very worried about this, at that time — that was 1986.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you. The gentleman right in front. Go ahead. And if people could keep their comments brief since I’m trying to close up, and Al Milliken, no Pew Forum event is complete without your being in here so we’re going to get to you too.
ELVIN LIM: I’m Elvin Lim at Brookings. Dr. Galston, you mentioned in your last point in your speech that philosophy is important because it mentions truth. And it therefore surprises me that your justification for value pluralism reduces itself to a sociological explanation for why it’s important.
It seems to me that an ontological proof of why it’s true is important because it’s a premise to your argument. It is also a possible reply that the kinds of objections that have been raised earlier today, namely in the first instance that value pluralism is useless or in the second instance that value pluralism is not believed by enough people to serve a practical purchase. So my question therefore is can you provide an independent ontological proof of why value pluralism is valuable in and by itself?
CHRISTOPHER EBERLY: Thanks very much. I actually was just enjoying the conversation and hadn’t really thought very much about just asking a question. But I did have a comment about a previous part of the discussion, specifically the notion of the discussion of assimilation and whether or not Professor Galston’s book is sort of a justification of the assimilation of different groups in America to the American way of life or Protestantism or something like that.
And the question I had was the following, and it seems that it’s consistent with your position and I wonder if it is or if it’s not: One can be assimilated to a certain set of fundamental values, for example, the value of religious freedom, religious tolerance, the unwillingness to employ the course of power of the state to compel people to engage in certain religious observances. People can be fully committed to that and nevertheless adhere to things like the kinds of claims that Professor Wolterstorff is articulating, for example, the notion that one has that a particular religion is true, that there is one summum bonum. There is no inconsistency whatsoever between those two sets of claims. In fact, the second set of claims can provide a justification for the first. In fact, one can say I believe my religious perspective is appropriate, true and as a consequence I believe in religious freedom, given my understanding of human nature and what God expects of us.
Those two things seem entirely consistent to me.
AL MILLIKEN: Al Milliken, Washington Independent Writers. Is it possible this idea of value pluralism, holding the different competing views’ values on a somewhat equal basis, could you see this fitting in in the old Roman Empire where you could believe and practice what you wanted as long as you ultimately did submit to Caesar? But, of course, if ultimately your final allegiance was to God that might be cause to be fed to the lions.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you. And then lastly over here and then what I want to do is go in reverse order of Professor Wolterstorff, Macedo and then Galston.
DOUG WILSON: Thank you. My name is Doug Wilson. I’m also at Brookings. I have a quick question about voluntary associations and civic institutions that may be illiberal or don’t follow the regime principles. I’m wondering, assuming that we accept the toleration of those associations within a liberal democracy, if the state still has the ability to distinguish those institutions that are liberal and favor in some sort of substantive way, subsidies, et cetera, the encouragement of voluntary associations that would encourage civic republicanism, civic virtue while tolerating but not subsidizing voluntary associations which seem illiberal?
NICHOLAS WOLTERSTORFF: I would like rather than answering any questions to put one more to Bill. Though it’s really to press Steve’s question.
Put it like this: When you first think about it you might think that value pluralism implies total expressive liberty, but you say not so; there are two fundamental appropriate value limitations on expressive liberty. You mention them over and over. Civic unity has such value that we allow expressive liberty only within the limitations of civic unity and what you’d call individual security. Both of these we both know are sort of weasel words, but be that as it may, so much expressive liberty is allowed as is compatible then with civic unity and individual security.
Here’s one of the questions Steve pressed: He says, well let’s think about that. Aren’t there other limitations, which seem to be fully compatible with value pluralism, which you would accept? We don’t nowadays allow owners of wetlands to drain those wetlands at will even though it’s not a threat as far as I can see to civic unity. The environmentalists might think so, but normally it’s not a threat to civic unity and it’s not a threat to individual security, so something more broadly, the common good of some sort or other we allow as a legitimate limitation so you can see my question coming.
If it’s appropriate for us to allow expressive liberty within those limitations, within those values, if that’s compatible with value pluralism, why then isn’t it also compatible with value pluralism to say that we should allow so much expressive liberty as is compatible with making everybody autonomous? What exactly from the value pluralist standpoint is worse about autonomy than about civic unity. Isn’t it also compatible with value pluralism to say that we should allow so much expressive liberty as is compatible with the practice of — now you can name it — one or another religion?
So my feeling is like Steve’s that value pluralism is a purely formal principle but it doesn’t, in fact, yield any substantive consequences. It doesn’t allow in your two favored ones of civic unity and individual security and rule out cultivation of personal autonomy or the practice of some religion or the good of wetlands and so forth.
That’s really just a restatement of Steve’s point. So I too think it’s enormously important to have a defense of the position that you and I roughly share but it doesn’t look to me as if the formalistic structure of value pluralism is going to get us there. I think we’ve got to just get down in the trenches and argue the cases more or less piecemeal, not quite piecemeal but there’s no big general principles of moral structure that’s going to do it. Value pluralism isn’t going to do it. We have to get into the trenches.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you. You’re going to force Bill into another political campaign.
STEPHEN MACEDO: I’m not sure which candidate will fit this particular agenda, but as Nicholas talked it does remind me that if Bill’s principle of this maximum feasible accommodation, it would be like returning to the Lochner era but not in the name of economical liberty but rather in the name of expressive liberty and again cultural pluralism and so on, and that was an era of there being a presumption in favor of a wide range of liberties of a certain sort and there was a hurdle to be passed before land would be regulated and so on.
So I’m sure that that isn’t the structure of constitutional principle that Bill means to embrace, in which case I do have a feeling that the connection between value pluralism and expressive liberty and so on is not particularly tight and I have otherwise with the book.
I’d say this question about the Mozert case sort of got me started on thinking about whether a liberal democratic regime that had robust civic values with respect to education, with respect to the promotion of civic excellence and so on was inevitably improperly taking sides in theological debates, which effectively I think is exactly the excellent question raised by Stephen Bates in that excellent book, which I remember reading and was one of the things that got me started.
I do think it’s a very interesting question, and part of it is historical, but I think that what we want these public institutions to do can be justified altogether in terms of public purposes and I think the only way to argue for school reform and so on is to argue in terms of our public purposes, which include the accommodation of diversity and so on, but a whole bunch of other things as well, and there isn’t any single principle that’s going to adequately do a short circuit around that complex civic purpose and so on, which is why I think a powerful case for school choice is made in terms of private schools and on public schools performing our civic functions more adequately than the current system of public schooling. Certainly in places like Cleveland and Milwaukee it’s worth taking a try. And just to say that’s what I think the issue is here, to maintain adequate scope for our public purposes.
Unlike Bill, I think diversity, a deference towards cultural pluralism and so on is very much the fashion in the academy and in some respects in Washington as well because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act did pass overwhelmingly. I’m not sure anybody voted against it at all. Deferring to religious communities I think in general is a very powerful public principle. I think what is in danger is a narrowing of our legitimate civic purposes and sort of a loss of faith in public institutions.
And just to say with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act I think that was unfair to give religious groups alone this sort of veto with respect to public policy. It singles them out and gives them a civic privilege they shouldn’t enjoy alone. To broaden it to cultural groups and communities of conviction in general I think would court chaos. I don’t think it would ever be taken seriously by courts anyway. I think it would be itself an expressive law being passed to sort of reassure people. I don’t think it could ever be, in fact, implemented.
But I’ll close with this. I wanted to thank Bill for his graciousness and for the extremely interesting discussion that this has provoked.
WILLIAM GALSTON: You know, this is like a bad TV show. You have five minutes to answer a hundred questions. It would be folly even to try and so it seems to me that the best thing I can do before I go to my brief concluding comments is to give out my e-mail address. For all the people that I have left unsatisfied either wholly or in part, and that’s everybody left in the room, it’s email@example.com and I will continue this colloquy at any length that doesn’t exhaust one or the other or both of us.
Let me just make a few scattered points and then get to what I think the main point on the table is. As Steve knows and others do, I do not believe that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act is vulnerable to the kinds of criticisms that he has leveled against it. This would be a long argument but I think that our disagreement on this point is, in fact, symptomatic of the fact that there is something real at stake here. Figuring out exactly what it is I think is a matter of some importance. We disagree not only about the snapshot of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as a piece of legislation at a particular point in history but also the right way of characterizing the history that led up to the adoption of that act. So I do think that this is a debate that is well worth continuing.
With regard to the comment that someone made, is it possible, consistent with the principles that I’ve laid down, for a liberal democracy as I understand it to favor certain sorts of civil institutions – that’s a very interesting question. Within bounds the answer to that question is yes and that principle has been recognized by the courts.
The Bob Jones case is the classic example and because that case stands for the proposition that while the federal government cannot command Bob Jones University to abandon its obnoxious views on racial separation, it is certainly justified in withholding a tax exemption or tax subsidy from that institution on the grounds that that institution is proceeding on bases that are quote/unquote “contrary to public policy.” There are people in this room who know this case a whole lot better than I do, but I think that as a matter of law and also as a matter of where I stand that is a perfectly fair question.
To Jonathan Rauch’s question, is value pluralism the luxury of the lucky or liberal pluralism the luxury of the lucky – yeah, to some extent it is, but I also think that there is, and you and I have talked about this, a real case for European nations who are not “so lucky” to ask themselves whether it is circumstances that have dealt them a bad hand or rather bad policies – for example, defining citizenship in ethnic or historical terms. Because there is a reason why many European countries have a hard time coping with immigration, namely the way they define citizenship and there is nothing written in stone that says they have to define citizenship in what I think is an inherently restrictive and unwise way and one bound to store up resentment on the part of the immigrants that they are inconsistent enough to allow within their borders.
With regard to the large issue about value pluralism – number one, a perfectly fair question and my answer is, if all that I gestured toward in this book were a sociological justification of value pluralism then I would have committed I think treason against my own intentions. In fact, although I think it is, as Peter Berkowitz has pointed out in his review and others are no doubt going to point out in theirs, I don’t exactly clinch the case. And do I have an ontological proof? No, and nobody does and nobody will.
Do I put considerations on the table drawn from moral experience that point in the direction of the truth of value pluralism? Yes, I do, both individual moral experience and also, to be blunt, some experiences that I had when I was in government that actually got me started thinking about value pluralism for the first time. So it is a truth claim. It’s not a claim I clinch, but it’s a claim I intend to make.
Now, is value pluralism a purely formal principle? To quote Nick Wolterstorff, I don’t see how it could be a purely formal principle if it excludes other accounts of moral life, which are substantive. It must itself have some substantive bite.
But if you’re asking how it functions in political argument, one way that it functions in political argument is as a principle of rebuttal or preclusion. If value pluralism is true and a polity seeks to justify a particular public policy on grounds that ineliminably depend and advert to the falsity of value pluralism in the name of some other account of moral universe, then my claim is that value pluralism can be used to estop that policy, in lawyer’s terms, from making that argument. And so that is a way in which the argument does real work. And we can then look at particular cases.
And by the way, I absolutely agree with you and as a matter of fact I see value pluralism as a way of giving an account of why casuistry and why the assent to particular cases is absolutely necessary, and that it seems to me is one of its major virtues; that is, consistency with our sense that to specify the multiple goods in play in a particular practical situation is to begin a discussion and to structure a discussion but not to end a discussion. You then have to ask a series of finer grained questions in order to reach practical conclusions. I absolutely agree with you and I think that value pluralism lends itself to that mode of practical argumentation in a way that other accounts of the moral and political world don’t.
Are we all value pluralists in the academy? I don’t think so. The most famous political philosopher of our time started off his most famous book with the proposition that justice is the first virtue of social institutions and he went on to say that policies and practices that are inconsistent with that first virtue, even if they embody good of their own, must give way to it. And that was a Kantian move. I understand it. I even have some sympathy for it. But it is an example of the sort of move that value pluralism will not permit, at least so flat-footedly.
Is it a purely formal principle that does no work, theoretically or practically? I don’t think so. But it’s a different matter to ask the question, do I succeed in moving down the ladder of argumentation from a high level abstract characterization of the moral universe to a particular set of political and even policy conclusions and I am open to the charge that I didn’t.
What I am not quite so open to is the proposition that value pluralism in principle is either the day in which all cows are white or the night in which they’re all black but incapable in any event of acting as a principle of practical discrimination.
E.J. DIONNE: Thank you very much. It’s fun to watch philosophers argue. I want to say a couple of thank-yous again and first to the Brookings Institution – sometimes people talk about the liberal Brookings Institution; it’s actually the pluralist Brookings Institution and it has been very open to these sorts of discussions since we’ve all been organizing them. I want to thank Paul Light, Tom Mann, Mike Armacost the president and Ron Nessen for helping us out.
Thanks also to The Pew Charitable Trusts, who fund the Pew Forum. God bless them.
Thank you all very, very much.