Monday, June 15, 2020

Yes, Politics Must Be War

Public reason liberalism and public reason theory more generally remains a big deal in political philosophy. The basic problem public reason liberals (hereafter PRLs) think they need to solve goes as follows:

People have a diverse range of moral, religious, and political views. They claim citizens deeply dispute the nature of the good and the just, and also dispute which institutions, policies, and practices best realize their normative goals. If these conditions obtain, this supposedly generates a normative problem: how could uniform moral or political rules can be imposed upon all of us, without treating us as unfree or unequal, without running roughshod over our reasonable moral disagreements about the good and the just, and without running roughshod over our reasonable empirical disagreements about how to realize our moral goals? 

I worry that public reason liberalism is a non-solution to a pseudo-problem. It's a non-solution because so far no one has been able to solve the problem described above, though Gerald Gaus, Kevin Vallier, and a few others have given it an honest go. (In contrast, some public reason liberals, instead of trying to solve the problem, use the theory as a weapon to dismiss anyone they disagree with as unreasonable, in order to avoid having to answer difficult objections to their own theories.) But even if PRLs satisfactorily solved the problem, so what? What if the problem they are trying to solve is illusory?

I have a paper coming out in Elizabeth Edenberg and Michael Hannon's OUP Politics and Truth volume called "Does Public Reason Liberalism Rest on a Mistake?: Democracy’s Doxastic and Epistemic Problems". Here's the abstract:

Public reason liberalism is a normative theory meant to adjudicate citizens’ conflicting beliefs about the right and the good. However, it rests upon controversial and likely mistaken empirical claims about voter psychology and voter knowledge. In political science, there are two major paradigms—populism and realism—about the relationship between voters’ beliefs and political outcomes. Realism holds that most citizens lack the kinds of beliefs and attitudes which public reason liberals believe are normatively significant. If so, then most citizens lack the kinds of ideological disputes which public reason liberalism is supposed to adjudicate. Worse, most citizens lack the kinds of normatively significant beliefs upon which public justification must rest. 

In short, the paper argues that the kinds of ideological and doxastic conflicts PRLs want to resolve simply aren't there to begin with, except for a small percentage (like under 10 percent) of the general population. Worse, the PRL project is doomed because most people have insufficiently robust doxastic states which any public justification could hook onto. 

Today, Heterodox Academy has posted a good summary of some of the literature on political psychology which supports my criticism. (I don't like the description of "essentialism", but the remainder of the piece is good.) While the public reason liberalism see people as joining factions based on different beliefs, or as starting with different beliefs, in fact, for most people, the faction comes first and the beliefs--if we even want to call them that--simply parrot what the faction says today. In fact, people are overwhelmingly innocent of ideology. They join parties for non-ideological, non-interest-based reasons. They vote for who they are, not what they want. The reason that political parties can switch platforms almost overnight, but keep nearly all the same voters (who then immediate "change their minds" to conform with the party platforms, but who also deny they even changed their minds) is that the parties are not coalitions based on common ideology, belief, or interest. 

Must politics be war? Yes, of course it must, because war is the point. The Democratic and Republican coalitions are not based on common beliefs or common interests, and the overwhelming majority of their supports did not going them our of agreement with their party platforms or their current expressed ideologies.