The Liberal Conscience

The Liberal Conscience: Politics and Principle in a World of Religious Pluralism

Lucas Swaine
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    The Liberal Conscience
    Book Description:

    "A new liberal theory awaits, one that properly acknowledges the fundamental values and commitments of theocrats and liberals alike." -- from The Liberal of Conscience

    In recent years, the battle between liberalism and theocracy has taken center stage around the globe. To many it is a dispute that can only end in a confrontation of competing values and worldviews. In this bold new work, Lucas Swaine combines discussions of political philosophy and real-world events to provide solutions to this seemingly intractable conflict. By opening a dialogue between theocracy and liberalism and offering strategies for interacting with politically ambitious theocrats, Swaine offers new and vital perspectives on the role of religion in liberal, multicultural societies.

    Swaine begins by exploring the nature and development of theocratic communities and the moral and political challenges they pose to liberal societies. He argues that in their treatment of theocratic communities, liberal societies have failed to uphold their own stated principles of religious toleration. They have also neglected to formulate a suitable schema for treating theocratic communities ensconced in liberal democracies and to provide reasons for theocrats to affirm liberal institutions. Swaine calls upon liberals to redefine and reassert the fundamental importance of liberty of conscience. By doing so, liberal societies will reinvigorate their own traditions, while also assuaging religious conflict. In addition to philosophical arguments, Swaine proposes a new legal standard that offers theocratic communities quasi sovereignty within liberal democracies.

    Theocrats also have much to gain from embracing liberalism and the principle of liberty of conscience. Swaine argues that liberalism can be made more appealing to the values and concerns of theocrats if the liberal commitment to freedom of conscience is clarified and modified and if liberals take a fresh approach to conceptualizing and promulgating liberal principles, institutions, and laws.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50981-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    FREE SOCIETIES FOUGHT AND WON decisive wars against communism and fascism in the twentieth century. Combat between political ideologies has waned away. Now the seas have changed, with religious challenges rising to the surface around the globe. Throngs of religious groups and movements worldwide reject liberal rights and freedoms, flatly claiming they are anathema to sacred doctrine. Domestically, liberal democracies continue to struggle with weighty and unwieldy religious problems on a wide range of divisive topics. American society is at odds with itself, marked by fractious and troublesome debates over religion and politics. Affiliates of America’s religious Right complain that...

  5. 1. A Liberalism of Conscience
    (pp. 1-28)

    DESPITE THEIR STEPS FORWARD with respect to toleration, stability, and legitimacy, the liberal democracies of the new millennium have inherited unresolved and what appear to be ultimately irresolvable religious differences. The world’s great democracies contain within them a wide variety of comprehensive doctrines, religious and otherwise. Not all these doctrines derive from a Christian fount: democracies are increasingly multicultural places, featuring wide racial and ethnic diversity and legions of religious communities representing every major religious tradition. The condition of permanence attached to this array of comprehensive doctrines prompts some writers to suggest, quite rightly, that there is a “fact of...

  6. 2. Liberalism and the Liberty of Conscience
    (pp. 29-70)

    IN CHAPTER 1, I OUTLINED AND DESCRIBED four special moral problems pertaining to ambitious and retiring theocrats dwelling within liberal democracies. I suggested that, first, no appropriate legal standard has yet been devised for dealing with theocratic communities and, second, the grounds on which liberal government may govern theocrats have not yet been properly articulated. The third moral problem I identified was that theocrats are still owed an explanation as to why liberal government has a right to regulate their behavior. The fourth, I proposed, is that an explanation to this effect, and for a particular standard under which to...

  7. 3. How Should Liberal Democracies Treat Theocratic Communities?
    (pp. 71-120)

    CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL AND LEGAL THINKING languishes when it comes to discovering and constructing workable standards for treating religious convictions, and the predicament of theocratic communities within liberal democracies bears out this observation. Advocates of separationist principles and proponents of accommodationist standards alike have endeavored to build a solid foundation for law that respects religion in its various forms, but none has been successful in so doing. While separationist principles and certain accommodationist insights provide guidelines for handling the wide variety of religious convictions within liberal democracies and existing legal standards serve the majority of religious citizens quite well, they fail...

  8. 4. Inspiring Public Reason: THE PROMISE OF LIBERALISM
    (pp. 121-156)

    I ELABORATED IN CHAPTER 3 the idea of quasi sovereignty for retiring theocratic communities, completed an outline of the basic elements of a semisovereign framework, and provided reasons why a legal framework of that kind would make for a better, more workable standard for treating theocratic communities in liberal democracies. In this final chapter, I aim to achieve four remaining objectives. First, I identify implications that the arguments above hold for public reason and the role of religious argumentation in public discourse. Second, I focus on issues raised by religious extremists and other ambitious theocrats and advance suggestions as to...

  9. Review and Conclusion: THE ULTIMTE APPEAL OF LIBERALISM
    (pp. 157-164)

    IN THIS BOOK, I HAVE WORKED to meet the challenges of theocracy by providing reasons, principles, and explanations to justify liberal principles and institutions that can withstand theocratic challenges. My aim has been to furnish a more complete and powerful response to the problems of theocracy by offering a philosophical solution to the conundrums that theocrats raise for liberalism and by delineating practical applications of the theory for actual implementation.

    In chapter 1, I distinguished two types of theocrats, ambitious and retiring, and identified the prudential and moral problems they present for liberalism and liberal institutions. I subsequently pinpointed and...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 165-208)
  11. Index
    (pp. 209-216)