Persons, Citizens, Communities.
Post-liberal and Post-Communitarian Notion of the Self

 

One of the most interesting observations on nature of human personality comes from the domain of contemporary political theory. About two decades ago debate between liberals and communitarians began. As a result many significant contributions to traditional theories of justice, freedom, equality, rights have been made. Today, when the discussion seems to come to an end, a considerable number of political theorists and philosophers, watchers as well as participants in liberal-communitarian controversy, notices that the controversy had its roots in some perplexities concerning not so much political ideas, as different assumptions on moral and metaphysical basis of human being. However in order to evaluate properly consequences of these debate we should not forget about the context in which the whole controversy appeared. It is precisely domain of political theory and social philosophy where work of such authors as Will Kymlicka, William A. Galston, Michael Walzer, Chandran Kukathas, Michael J. Perry, R. Bruce Douglas or David Hollenbach could be accomplished. My papers serves as a preparation for sizing up particular problems from political theory and developing futher ideas concernig moral and metaphysical questions understrood as a consequences of those problems. Thus I have decided to put mentioned debate in the frame of reference of certain queries, that would lead us then to specific philosophical theories. Those queries are: conception of liberalism as an idea of relations between individuals and communities (with some historical illustration), criticism of individualistic idea of social life (based on conception of group rights), unsufficiency of political communitarian and post-liberal theories, the need for finding proper a context for questions that became visible during above discussions (shift towards idea of neutrality), recognition of interdependences of politics, community, values, philosophy and religion.

1. Liberalism as a political scheme of neutrality

I would like to claim in this paper that our political life, our understanding of political processes, particularly those referring to the relations between individual and community, for at least four decades, have been designed in accordance with paradigm imposed by theory and practise of liberal philosophy. This philosophy defined objectives and trajectories of how to grasp all what happens on global political scene. To answer this question I should of course clarify what I mean by liberalism. But there is no room in this short presentation for such a fundamental definition. I would rather like to point out some features of liberalism I consider crucial when dealing with the subject of this paper. First of all liberalims is a conception that, in the name of proper, undistorted functioning of democratic procedures in given state, declare necessity of neutrality of all institution connected with this state. Neutrality must be secured in all segments of political life unless they do not refer to "values" different than those influencing general efficiency of society (this must be understood in contractarian, and not utilitarian, way). The state is prohibited from pointing citizens their aims, and from distinguishing one way of "good life" from another. Origins of liberalism as a conception proclaiming neutrality, and idea of rights are rooted in the turn of the 16th and 17th century, in the years of religious wars in Europe. After split of Christianity coused by Reformation and establishing of the protestant church large parts of Europe were resided in unfinishing religious conflicts. It seemed that in those conditions there would be no longer peace, and that the only way of "contact" among various fighting groups that left would be a religious massacre. But it occured that despite all those tensions and doctrinal differences after several years of wars there was achieved very powerful and efficient consensus that created a state of peace in Europe for centuries. Parties of the conflict found some common basis for discussion. Certain treatises secured all people's (of course in 17th century conditions) right to confess their own religion, right to resistance and dissent from wrong (in their opinion) political order. That was beginning of the idea of toleration. This idea would be proclaimed successfully only because those who decided to be ready to enter the contract (for example Westphalian treatise) had to give up in the public discussions (those referring to power, rights to lands, etc.) their "religious (it meant "un-public") convictions". Further this idea of toleration was elaborated theoretically by the founders of the liberal thought: from Thomas Hobbes ("Leviathan"), and John Locke ("Second treatise on government" and "Letter on Toleration"), till American thinkers developing ideas about slavery and toleration of conflicting states under the federal, costitutional government, just before the Civil War. Liberalism, as defined in this context, provided a perfect solution for the problems whether there is any possibility of consensus among fighting parties. Liberal solution was simple: conflicts are always destructive unless fighting sides give up during political argumentations their philosophical, moral views. Thus political  procedures must be designed so they would be able to secure and protect "general neutrality". And this is only neutrality that secures peace and toleration. How can we refer, dealing with idea of community and individual, to presented above foundations of liberalism? Peace among confessions was possible only because of strict separation of church and state. Every individual was free to choose religion she/he wanted to confess. Separated from religious doctriness state could not become a reason of discrimination. Thus the problem of "religious competence" became a part of private life, separated from the public, connected with political dimension, sphere. And almost the same idea helped to established contemporary order of the ethnic (communal) minorities: question of group membership was separated from the life of political procedures of contemporary state (state that looks to deal with "minority competence" simply would fall in the realm of conflicts and intolerance). Groups are lack of political and constitutional identity. Instead we have a system of law, rights, conception of justice, that refer only to individuals, the only possible political and public identity, the only possible "public self".

2. Revision of liberal claims

According to Charles Taylor, it is possible to make in this point some correction to liberal philosophy. Individuals are "culturally conditioned", but this cultural membership is exercised during the process of political decisions. We must thus distinguish for example Indians as members of certain cultural scheme and as participants in political community. But followers of idea of self-governing of Canadian Indians oppose this idea and claim that Indians have different system of values than that typical for liberalism. It is a communitarian system without such powerful stress on the absolute character of the individual. Instead of trying to connect politically culture and formal political decisions, we should develop a solution that would recognize special expectations of Indian culture and that would be rooted in the system of shared values and meanings, treatment of distributed goods as "products" of tradition of certain groups, and distribute them according to their cultural significance (similar ideas are exposed by communitarianism of Michael Walzer, who in his "Spheres of Justice" proposes conception of justice as dependent on spheres of activities of groups, communities, and generally cultures, not individuals).Post-liberalism provided us with different solutions of this problem. First is a political one. Reservation of certain rights for Indians was good only for Indians, but in society where they live they can cause certain harms of other citizens - non-Indians. These "others" have also their own traditions and culture that must be protected. How to solve this conflict of cultural interests? Result of application of communitarian position would be total and unlimited relativism of different "spheres" of activity of all (Indians as well as non-Indians) citizens. This problem is not simply a logical puzzle. It refers to the difficulty of functioning of groups: can we allow them to act in the way that would destroy certain political goods and values (toleration of  intolerants), can we allow them to exercise certain traditional customs that are impossible to accept by some patterns of political life: for example should we tolerate practises of communities that tell its female members to cover their faces?Second level of post-liberal idea of minority rights refers to its philosophical foundations. Those who accept special status of Indians develop different than liberal theory of the self. The self is viewed as a basis for political activities of members of Indian communities. Does reconstruction of liberalism mean refutation of liberal idea of the self? Post-liberals claim that this is not necessarily the truth. Idea about non-communal constitution of the self does not mean that we should refuse the value of cultural membership. Life-plans, tradition, culture are important on every step of making political decisions by autonomous individual. We can say that spheres of culture, that what is a constitutive for the self and liberal autonomy, source of political life, overlap with each other. Mentioned above ideas very hardly provide us with proper solutions. Communitarianism failed to propose any political idea that would help us to modify liberal theories of the just and fair distribution of goods, voting rights, local government and so on. How could we accept Walzer's suggestion about distribution of goods according to the patterns of "cultural membership"?, where there is distinguished so called "primary" or "embracing" culture, that must invoke a problem of possible discrimination and exclusion of other, minority cultures? These questions refer us to deep and important problems connected with tradition of contemporary liberal democracy, but also asks about reconsideration of fundaments of contemporary culture, politics and global economy. Even more deeply there is a room for a question about relations between theoretical, philosophical fundaments and concrete decisions and solutions of our politics. Now we must turn to some solution of this, just noticed perplexity linked with post-liberal criticism of liberal political order. I would like to present here some ideas that seem to answer to described above situation in contemporary political theory and social philosophy that will directly lead us to the core of this paper, namely to idea of person, citizenship, community and politics.

3. Morality, law and community

In order to develop a proposal of solving all those presented above problems we must turn to different field within the domain of political theory and social philosophy. Instead of certain "cultural studies", "difference studies", "gender studies" we will ask questions concerning person, citizens and communities within theories dealing with legal, procedural and constitutional problems. As I noticed in the section of the paper considering roots of liberalism, this idea is linked to the "negative" coonceptions of freedom, right, state and law and can  be defined as a conception of neutrality. "Neutrality" functions here as a label indicating traditional ideas of toleration, freedom of association, primacy of the right over the good, freedom of speech, plurality, struggles of opinions within the democratic state, independence of institutions, courts and government. Thus neutrality reflects an essential feature of the liberal view of how our social life ought to be shaped[1]. For the purposes of this paper I would like to focus on one dimension of  this "neutrality-label": precisely this referring to the conception of rights. Ronald Dworkin, one of the most prominent professionals dealing with jurisprudence, noticed that the state is "working" properly only when its institutions are separated from the influence of certain conceptions of the good life. As a philosopher of law Dworkin insists that decisions of courts and judges must be independent from any question connected with particular system of values. Thus neutrality is defined as a consequence of proper, right governmental decisions and legal structure: a given institution cannot distinguish one "good-option" from another. This idea of "neutral-politics" first of all refers to the concrete and given decisions of legislatures and institutions. But neutrality can also be viewed as a matter of principles. In the latter case the importance of the very intentions of legislature, of their neutral background is stressed. The intentions influence particular cases - legal content, they "work" like a general scheme, a framework according to which given verdict may be evaluated as proper, legitimated, justified[2]. The matter of principle is of course the matter of a specific image of political and social organization, but also is a matter of philosophical suggestions concerning relations that appear among human beings. In fact it is tied to given conception of human being, of man, of individual. Human being, man and individual are here strictly linked together, and the conception of human being and man is in fact a conception of individual. The individual, according to this conception, is an agent, who has a natural orientation towards free choices of her "life-plans". But most importantly this orientation, or natural attitude, does not refer us to particular, preferred conceptions, for instance to a liberal conception: one is free to choose his/her life within the structure of given community, even giving up of his/her "individual independence" [3]. Person chooses according to principles, and these are principles and not consequences of the choices (as would be proclamation of a given, for instance liberal or communitarian, society) that define whether this or that "option" is neutral or "non-neutral"[4]. It is not a surprise that theorists of neutrality develop in this context a theory of justice as a fulfillment of liberal claims. A theory of justice defines conditions where individuals are viewed as involved in the structures of institutions that shape the state. These conditions must secure a pattern of fairness. Rawlsian theory (especially this from A Theory of Justice) is an exposition of liberal "struggles for neutrality": access to the distributed goods cannot relay on any given conceptions of that what is good for one person in his/her life[5]. Similar claim is made by other important supporters of neutrality, like Bruce Ackerman, who suggests that justice is based on the rules of political life that shape modes of "dialogical" struggles for power. In fact every political process is realized during discourse, dialogue and arguments. The dialogue is unlimited unless one starts to use his/her non-neutral, based on particular conception of the good, argumentation, unless he or she uncovers his/her system of preferred values. The idea of neutrality secured in unconstrained political conversations takes shape of the following statement: no one claims that his/her ideal of the good life must be affirmed by the rest of the political community, there must be a "conversational filter" exercised in particular actions of individuals as members of a given political establishment[6].Let us turn to question about possibility of presence, according to just presented conception, in political life religious communities claims. It is entirely negative solution: it legally forbids the presence of religious convictions in the sphere of public life. Religious argumentation can be used in the political discourse as far as it does not violate the legislatively binding neutral scheme of this discourse, so that citizens having various conceptions concerning what the good life means cannot feel threatened that suddenly one moral option wins and begins to dominate the whole dimension of public practices of society.The most important feature of the "healthy" society here is neutrality of institutions and democratic processes. This virtue confirms the basic principles of liberal philosophy: rules of law, individual values, autonomy, and negative liberty.For example Michael J. Perry's, author's that I would like to focus here on, point is quite different. Perry seems to be influenced by elements of communitarian critique of liberalism. What does Perry propose instead of the idea of neutrality and the priority of the right over the good? First, Perry asks how it is possible to specify the relationship between morality and politics in the acknowledged by communitarians age of total plurality, relativity and incommensurability of given narratives and practices. Relativity is evident in the public life[7]. Perry is interested in finding some notion of rationality and ways of discussions based on common ground for this age of escape from objective truth. He proposes a definition of truth within the scheme of rational acceptability. This scheme is valid only for those communities that gain and secure the truth by way of developing given customs, practices, manners and narrative that are involved in the tradition of the community. Perry thus proclaims the existence of "moral communities" - structures where individuals belong, exercise their skills, knowledge and cognition concerning values[8]. These structures however do not determine and limit individuals. A particular person is able to protest, criticize, dissent and act against community. The point is nevertheless that every single action individuals perform is an encounter with the whole community as an expression of communal language, participation, interpretation and value. This is the place where the following notions can be demonstrated and realized: common good, common values and common "territory of actions". These notions no longer seek their objective, universal and absolute justification. Instead they are placed in the dimension of particular discourses and practices. This is also the way we should understand  the world of political life. Rather than looking for common and universal principles, we should turn to issues important for certain communities. Criticizing their attitude toward objectivity and universalism, Perry accuses liberal theorists, namely Ackerman, Rawls and Dworkin, for their attempts to construct absolutely true and valid systems of political values[9]. The main objective of those constructions was to solve political conflicts and struggles by reference to established, allegedly universal or meta-universal, liberal principles. The common, and at the same time the most dangerous feature of those ventures was to introduce a conception of political, not metaphysical, fairness and neutrality. That gives up of reference to conceptions of the good life (that, according to mentioned liberals, is an metaphysical topic) and instead seeks a condition of un-distorted communications and political consensus. Perry examines whether those attempts were succeeded. Making reference to Michael Sandel's critique of liberal theory of justice Perry asserts that liberals failed and had to include in their systems some metaphysical presumptions. Rawls bases his liberal conception on a specific vision of the self that is independent from its particular aims and purposes. The self is the first object and element that is uncoerced by any influence of particular choices, convictions or morality. The self with its choices is first, then follow certain consequences, consequences of its choices[10]. According to Perry when we reject Rawlsian conception of the self, legitimization of his principles of justice becomes problematic. But even if we will preserve this idea of the self, liberalism still is full of weaknesses and contradictions. The very foundation of Rawlsian theory of justice is a basic structure of society, structure of basic goods and values that are necessary if justice is to function properly. However when we accept the relativity of certain world-views and goods as proclaimed by liberals, it is impossible to introduce Rawlsian basic structure[11]. Perry detects a similar failure in Ackermanian neutrality project: is it possible to choose the best model of distribution for liberal society? Ackerman argues for the idea of equal distribution, but why did he decide that this precise model was exactly the best? It occurs that liberalism is impossible to validate as universal meta-conception of political life, its faults are internal to its principles, not to justification of these principles (Rawls was looking for fairness in the legitimization of theory of justice, but it was precisely validation of this theory that was supposed to be based on fairness)[12]. Further, denying conceptions of Ronald Dworkin, and utilitarianism, Perry moves to the crucial point of his critical examination of liberalism. He focuses on contemporary contractarianism as the most important form of liberal theory. According to contractarianism the right is located beyond the good because preference as to given idea of good would constrain points of contract. Perry mentions here later conceptions of John Rawls, those connected with his idea of political liberalism. As stated by this idea, all comprehensive theories must be excluded from public discourse, generally: democracy has its priority over philosophy. People turn to make a contract not because that is strictly linked to their selves, but because they are interested first of all in inventing a kind of peaceful and democratic consensus. As a result we receive a picture of a society that is a composition of individuals that in the name of communal, political, public good, tending to self-limitation of their desires and interests. However there are only particular goods that are subjects of contracts, no general motive, good, value of making an agreement is permitted. System of contractarian "coercion" must support and secure particular "public goods". Contract is based on law that protects interests (that means here - protection of liberal values of freedom and individuality) of each of parties entering the contract. And it is precisely law and not certain conception of morality, that makes a protection possible[13]. Having defined contractarianism, Perry is referring to contemporary exploration of this topic made by theologians concerned with the political significance of religion. Particularly he turns to work of the most prominent American catholic theologian, John Courtney Murray[14]. Murray was analyzing the famous electoral campaign of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1961. One of the republican arguments against Kennedy was that he was a catholic. According to republican critics of Kennedy "Catholicism was not compatible with America". Perry says that such an allegation made in the name of (neutral) democratic order was itself an expression of confidence in certain set of (in this case unfriendly for Catholicism) values. Authorizing democratic (neutral) values one makes a claim about virtues, principles, goodness that he/she believes are the most important. Perry describes this as similar to Charles Taylor's "civic virtues": everywhere in political life citizens in their actions express certain values. There is no escape from given scheme of virtues, even if they tend to be neutral. Public discourse, public life is in this way enriched (and not under threat as Greenawalt maintains) by specific personal attitudes and convictions. "Internal moral discourse" enters the political scene and shapes the scene. People's political interest is installed in the community they live in and is linked to given legislative and institutional procedures. And this is proper way of organizing of society: first we have communal dimension of values and practices, then public and constitutional settlement, that is always connected with community that makes its unfinished interpretation during dialogue (Perry is in this point influenced by hermeneutical ideas of Paul Ricoeur). Politics is understood in connection to public participation and actions of citizens linked to certain communities[15]. Public discourse must be based on particular conceptions of the good, because in fact it is a discussion about these good and values. "Neokantian" liberalism (namely Rawlsian one) represented the separation of the public and the private, eliminating the latter from political significance. Suggesting what public discussion should be about Perry, like Greenawalt, raises the question of authenticity. Political freedom does not mean only gaining the confidence (trust) of voters, nor is it only a matter a sincerity and authenticity. Perry differentiates two levels: the ontological (connected with human idea of authenticity) and the political one (directed towards autonomy and freedom) that are at the same time connected to each other[16]. This is the space for discussion about public exposition of religious belief. In the name of ontological and political dimensions of authenticity, public life is open for values and particularly, as Hilary Putnam pointed out, the "Jerusalem-based religions" that stress importance of spiritual ideals: brotherhood of man and gender, and equality. These ideals are, in contemporary political life enriched by liberal conceptions of freedom and critical thinking[17].

[1] Among works defining political liberalism as a conception of state and life of citizens within the idea of neutrality, the most important for my text are: Michael Sandel, Democracy's Discontent: America in Search of a Public Philosophy [Cambridge Mass.: The Belknap Press 1996], William A. Galston, Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 1991
[2] I would like to stress importance of those words, because they are referring to one of the most fundamental features of contemporary liberalism. Conception of legislature acting according to principles (a matter of principle) is crucial for Ronald Dworkin's political position. Dworkin defines this position in following works: Taking Rights Seriously [London: Duckworth 1977] p. 90, A Matter of Principle [Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press 1985]. See also articles that in very competent way describes essence of this idea: Jeremy Waldron, "Legislation and Moral Neutrality" and Robert E. Goodin, Andrew Reeve, "Do Neutral Institutions Add Up to a Neutral State?" in Robert E. Goodin and Andrew Reeve (eds.), Liberal Neutrality [London: Routledge 1989]. Goodin and Reeves distinguish consequentialist neutrality from deontologist neutrality. The former refers to idea of neutrality as consequences of decisions of state institutions and legislature, and the latter corresponds with neutrality according to principles.
[3] We can combine this thesis about "exclusion from certain ideas of society" with Thomas Nagel's powerful argument against Rawlsian theory of justice. When we consider system of choice made by free agents in Rawls' conception, we must say that in fact those agents are not free, they are forced to perform certain, proper, action, that that would match to some (liberal) virtues: individualism, autonomy and so on, that, according to Nagel, means departure from neutrality principle: Thomas Nagel, "Rawls on Justice" in: Norman Daniels (ed.), Reading Rawls: Critical Studies of A Theory of Justice [Oxford: Basil Blackwell 1978] pp. 9, 10.
[4] See J. Waldron supra note 2, p. 80
[5] See ibid. pp. 18
[6] Bruce Ackerman, "Neutralities" in R. Bruce Douglas, Gerald M. Mara and Henry S. Richardson (eds.), Liberalism and the Good [New York: Routledge 1990] pp. 36, 37. This idea of neutrality is of course developed by Ackerman in his the most important book, that is an attempt to reconsider the traditional idea of justice in terms of new, Ackermanian, conception of "dialogical liberalism". See Bruce Ackerman, Social Justice in the Liberal State [New Haven: Yale University Press 1980] pp. 355, 357, 358, 365
[7] Michael J. Perry, Morality, Politics, and Law. A Bicentennial Essay [Oxford: Oxford University Press 1988] pp. 39-43. Perry's position in this point is based particularly on philosophical conceptions of Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty who reject existence of certain "pre-linguistic reality", proclaim holistic idea of truth and "internal realism".
[8] See ibid. p. 29
[9] See ibid. pp. 57-8
[10] See ibid. p. 60
[11] See ibid. pp. 62-3. I am conscious that without introduction at least central ideas connected with Rawlsian conception of justice it is a risky task to present any criticism of this conception. But even for such a short introduction there is no room in this paper. However I would like to refer to Rawls words about how he understands main thesis and aims of his theory. And these words uncover before us his idea of basic structure, what is very useful for us in this point: "For us the primary subject of justice is the basic structure of society, or more exactly, the way in which the major social institutions distribute fundamental rights and duties and determine the division of advantages from social cooperation" - See. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice [Cambridge Mass.: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 1971] p. 7
[12] Michael J. Perry supra note 18, pp. 65-6
[13] See ibid. p. 98
[14] Perry refers also to other American theologians who together with Murray shaped American Catholic idea of political presence of religion, John Noonan and Joseph Boyle. But these are Murray's conceptions that are in fact a kind of "paradigmatic" in this topic, and that are a point of departure for most recent political-theological deliberations in the States. See for example symposia that took place on the pages of the most important American Catholic journal: Theological Studies (vol. 37, No. 2, June 1976; vol. 40, No. 4, December 1979)
[15] Michael J. Perry supra note 18, pp. 148-9. Perry imports in this points also some claims from his idea of constitutionalism and jurisprudence. For Perry constitution is open for certain interpretation and changes. Kent Greenawalt would reject such formulation of possibility of constitutional changes.
[16] See ibid. p. 182
[17] See ibid. p. 184
 
 
Wroc³aw, 10.07.2000