Democracy demands moral citizenship

Robert B. Talisse in The Fulcrum:

Democracy is hard work. If it is to function well, citizens must do a lot of thinking and talking about politics. But democracy is demanding in another way as well. It requires us to maintain a peculiar moral posture toward our fellow citizens. We must acknowledge that they’re our equals and thus entitled to an equal say, even when their views are severely misguided. It seems a lot to ask.

To appreciate the demand’s weight, consider that a citizen’s duty is to promote justice. Accordingly, we tend to regard our political opposition as being not merely on the wrong side of the issues, but on an unjust side. Citizens of a democracy must pursue justice while also affirming that their fellow citizens are entitled to equal power even when they favor injustice. What’s more, citizens are obligated to acknowledge that, under certain conditions, it is right for government to enact their opposition’s will. This looks like a requirement to be complicit with injustice. That’s quite a burden.

To be sure, the demand is not altogether unconstrained. For one thing, citizens need not respect every kind of political opponent. Although the boundaries are contested, there are limits to what counts as a valid political opinion. For example, citizens aren’t required to respect those who call for the absolute subordination of one portion of the citizenry to another. Furthermore, no citizen is ever required simply to submit to the popular will. In the wake of electoral defeat, we need not quietly resign; we are constitutionally entitled to criticize and protest the outcome.

Although these consolations may make the moral demand of citizenship more bearable, it remains onerous.

More here.