Date of this Version
Ethics Oct 2014, Volume 125, Issue 1, pp. 267 - 272
This is a poorly organized book, and it does not really present any well- structured arguments. In a blurb on the back of the book, Christopher Eisgruber says that “every serious scholar of religious toleration will have to contend with Leiter’s bold claims.” That would have been so if Leiter had proceeded less precipitously to the question that interests him and then focused on it more steadily— if, for example, he had first identified the classic arguments for toleration and criticized them and had then gone on to argue that neither the classic tolerationist arguments ðsuch as they areÞ nor any other principled arguments can make a case for religious accommodations. That would have been a bold and bracing argument. But poor structure and lack of clarity with definitions make it harder to see what is at stake in any of the arguments and what position exactly Leiter is counseling us to take.
There’s been enough renewed interest in republicanism over the past thirty years that we can call it a “republican revival.” If you know about this revival, it’s probably through the Quentin Skinner cum Philip Pettit excavation of a third way between Isaiah Berlin’s conceptions of negative and positive freedom. For republicans, Skinner and Pettit tell us, freedom is ðor at least requiresÞ nondomination. Living without domination requires neither the absence of interference nor the actualization of ideals associated with positive liberty—autonomy, self-mastery, and so on. Suppose I want to drink less, but I just can’t sober up. So I hand over my liquor cabinet’s key to a friend, on the understanding that she will only return it after a day’s notice. This is one of Pettit’s favorite examples. He thinks it shows how interference doesn’t always compromise freedom. If I beg you for the immediate return of my key, and you refuse as per my instructions, you interfere with me, but you don’t reduce my freedom because you interfere on my terms. Interference makes me less free only when it isn’t on my terms—such interference is “arbitrary”as republicans often say. Arbitrary interference always reduces freedom. Suppose you stole the key in hopes of helping me overcome alcoholism. Your actions might lead to increased self-mastery, but you left me worse off in a freedom-specific way nonetheless.
Pettit thinks that a robust commitment to democracy falls right out of this conception of freedom. The republican tradition rejects outright William Paley’s claim that life under “the edicts of a despotic prince” might be “no less free than the purest democracy” ðThe Principles of Moral and Political Philosophy [Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002], 314Þ. Why? Because however religiously they leave us alone, despotic princes hold a power of arbitrary interference. The promise of democracy, from a republican perspective like Pettit’s, is that a democratic regime is one where the state interferes only as bidden by the people. He claims that there is thus a deep, maybe even conceptual, connection between republicanism and democracy.