Dangerous Inflection Point

Sanjay Reddy in Reddytoread:

UntitledIn the months before Donald Trump’s despicable executive order peremptorily banning entrants to the United States from select majority Muslim countries and placing a temporary stop on all refugee admissions, among other measures, was promulgated, many commentators have attempted to find the words to capture the smallness of mind and of moral vision of the new President. Roger Cohen is among those who have done so recently, in a powerful piece in the New York Times, published just before Trump’s latest execrable order, noting that “A rough translation of ‘America First’ is Muslims last.” That this pitiable notion of “America First”, although in a tradition, is not in keeping with other American traditions, such as for instance that of the Quakers, is the least point. Although it wraps itself in pragmatic claims of protection against terrorism it in fact represents the rejection of the idea of liberal democracy itself, understood as grounded in conceptions of equal treatment of persons (even if this idea was to be applied differently to citizen insiders and non-citizen outsiders).

Considerations of human dignity arising from what the philosopher John Rawls understood as a ‘broadly Kantian’ background to the shared public culture of liberal democracy played a crucial role in upholding their institutions, and underpinning such ideas as ‘public reason’ bringing together the idea that justification in a democracy must require reasons and that these must be of a kind that could be accepted by others, having different ‘comprehensive conceptions of the good’, such as followers of different religions or none at all. Another American philosopher, Richard Rorty, referred to a “human rights culture” underpinning liberal democracies, and crystalized in facts such as the abhorrence of torture, in retrospect a a precisely and presciently chosen example. However he worried, and controversially argued, that this had no ultimate philosophical or political support except itself.

More here.