The Clash of Rights

The Clash of Rights: Liberty, Equality, and Legitimacy in Pluralist Democracy

Paul M. Sniderman
Joseph F. Fletcher
Peter H. Russell
Philip E. Tetlock
Copyright Date: 1996
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Clash of Rights
    Book Description:

    Why do citizens in pluralist democracies disagree collectively about the very values they agree on individually? This provocative book highlights the inescapable conflicts of rights and values at the heart of democratic politics.Based on interviews with thousands of citizens and political decision makers, the book focuses on modern Canadian politics, investigating why a country so fortunate in its history and circumstances is on the brink of dissolution. Taking advantage of new techniques of computer-assisted interviewing, the authors explore the politics of a wide array of issues, from freedom of expression to public funding of religious schools to government wiretapping to antihate legislation, analyzing not only why citizens take the positions they do but also how easily they can be talked out of them. In the process, the authors challenge a number of commonly held assumptions about democratic politics. They show, for example, that political elites do not constitute a special bulwark protecting civil liberties; that arguments over political rights are as deeply driven by commitment to the master values of democratic politics as by failure to understand them; and that consensus on the rights of groups is inherently more fragile than on the rights of individuals.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14651-6
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Paul M. Sniderman
    (pp. 1-13)

    This work is an essay in democratic theory, albeit in an empirical key. We have spoken with a few thousand ordinary citizens and with more than a thousand decision makers—parliamentarians, government officials, senior lawyers. In the process, we have tried to elicit their judgments of right and wrong across an array of issues at the center of contemporary democratic politics: How should decisions of what is right and wrong ultimately be made in a democracy? How do the political institutions of liberal democracy sustain such fundamental rights as freedom of speech? What forms does the clash of values—say,...

    (pp. 14-51)

    The vulnerability of democratic rights is not always the dominant theme in democratic theory—a concern for justice, for example, periodically commands more attention—but it is surely the deepest and most persistent anxiety.¹ And for all too obvious reasons. The twentieth century alone has added unprecedented chapters to the historical record of war, corruption, political persecution, and genocidal annihilation. How, then, has it been possible for citizens in certain countries to enjoy fundamental democratic rights: to vote in free and fair elections, to speak their mind on public issues without fear of governmental reprisals, to be protected against unreasonable...

    (pp. 52-79)

    Democratic rights come in all sizes and many shapes. Some represent long-standing and deeply grounded claims; others have surfaced only recently. Most are political, explicitly dealing with public affairs; others are only obliquely so, defining what is private and personal against the claims of what is public and political. It would be an exaggeration to say that the variety of democratic rights forms a definite, agreed-on hierarchy, but substantial agreement obtains on a set of core rights. We want to deepen our examination of democratic rights by exploring this core set, concentrating on the rights of freedom of expression and...

    (pp. 80-119)

    Equality has been a foundational value of liberal democratic politics. Less obvious is the nature of the foundations it has helped to establish. What gives a special stamp to equality as a political value? Why does it so distinctively engender, as J. R. Pole (1993) has remarked, a fissiparous politics? The answer, we suggest, is that equality is a complex rather than a unitary idea. It embraces a variety of domains of life and social goods capable, as Michael Walzer (1983) has argued, of taking on different but coherent meanings in different cultures or even in the same culture at...

    (pp. 120-155)

    Equality occupies a commanding place in contemporary polities for two apparently contradictory reasons: first, it fuels a historic argument over what the government should do on behalf of citizens who have less than others; second, it has thrown up a whole new class of claims to group versus individual rights. Thus equality has paradoxically come to define central themes both of continuity and change in democratic politics.

    Equality as a value enters politics at a variety of levels but most conspicuously and vitally in the form of disputed proposals for public action. Historically, the clash over equality has centered on...

    (pp. 156-190)

    A people’s political institutions and their political identity are interknit. Some of the threads tying the two together are manifest, but more are subtle. From the common vantage point, political institutions represent not agreement on what choices should be made but agreement on how public choices are to be made; so conceived, political institutions are about means, not ends. Yet, at levels deeper than everyday politics, how a people agree that their choices as a people should be made and the values they as a people honor and defend are connected. It is this connection between governance and identity, at...

    (pp. 191-234)

    The deepest cleavage in modern Canadian politics has centered on language. Class has counted for less in comparison, ethnicity otherwise understood for still less, and religion, which once seemed the very center of the divide between French and English Canada, has nearly disappeared as an issue in public life. In Canadian politics, language cuts the deepest.

    Bylanguagewe mean, of course, not simply the spoken or written word, but all that French and English have come to mean socially, politically, culturally. So understood, language is an aspect of identity, and because claims for a public status have been made...

    (pp. 235-258)

    Pluralism has been the figure in the carpet—pluralism of ideas, of institutions, above all, of values. It is time to pull together the threads of the argument. Our argument, put in the broadest terms, is that conflicts over democratic rights are inescapable, not simply because many citizens do not understand what the values of a democratic politics require in practice, but because many of these values clash with one another, and some of them even clash with themselves.

    In its modern dress, pluralism entered empirical democratic theory as a theory of political power. Examined close-up, public decisions turned out...

  12. Appendix: Study Procedures
    (pp. 259-262)
    (pp. 263-268)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 269-278)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 279-284)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 285-291)