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Question for Professor Bainbridge

EDIT: Professor Bainbridge has revised the post I refer to below to account for new information he received directly from Bruce Bartlett. Bainbridge makes clear that his disagreement with Bartlett is over whether a society can adhere to time-tested moral principles over the long run without faith. Bartlett thinks it can; Bainbridge thinks it cannot.

I hope that this debate doesn't remain solely between "big-C" and "small-c" conservatives. These questions are important for everyone who thinks that moral principles ought to be reflected in politics. I suppose that would include just about everyone, even libertarians. Surely the libertarians would agree that their concern for individual choice is itself a moral principle, and that this principle ought to be reflected in the laws and policies of the government.

This libertarian principle, like all moral principles, depends for its strength upon faith of some kind. It is no more capable of empirical proof than any religious tenet, and yet some libertarians bristle when anyone suggests that "faith" has anything to do with politics. In some general sense, only a political amoralist (neither conservative, liberal, nor libertarian) could plausibly say that politics should have nothing whatsoever to do with faith.

There seems at first glance to be a profound difference, though, between claiming simply that politics should be moral, and claiming that politics should be moral in a way that is guided by a religious faith. But I'm not so sure that the difference is as large as it seems, or that it even exists. The acknowledged source of the morality seems irrelevant. As soon as you say that politics should be moral, you're asserting the right to specify which morality politics should include. Excluding specifically religious formulations of morality is as great an imposition on religious people as embodying a specifically religous morality is an imposition on those who are non-religious. Democracy can't solve this conflict, since no one is prepared to submit their most deeply-held moral beliefs to a vote.

Whether or not you think that the Rawlsian solution of "political liberalism" makes democracy possible by restricting the scope of political discourse to "public reasons," the issue of moral principles in politics isn't just a conservative issue. It's one that liberals, libertarians, and agrarians have to wrestle with as well.


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TITLE: the moth(er) of all eviction notices URL: http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/ethicalesq/2004/10/18#a2514 IP: BLOG NAME: f/k/a . . . . DATE: 10/19/2004 12:21:13 AM [Read More]