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Kymlicka’s Contemporary Political Philosophy 11

July 5, 2017

While this may help to explain how citizenship theorists are brought to deliberative conceptions and deliberative theorists to conceptions of citizenship (perhaps even including Stout), it does little to explain how one might arrive at those fora from the contemporary macro-political set up of pluralist liberal democracies. To this the author adds his own opinion to the effect that, even if such fora existed, most citizens would find political life a sacrifice compared with the richness of their personal lives. To which Aristotelian civic republicans must find some answer showing why that perspective is wrong throughout. Indeed, Kymlicka challenges them to do just that:

“Aristotelian republicans insist that those passive citizens who find greater pleasure in the joys of family and career than in politics are somehow misguided and ‘stunted’. But what is the basis for such a claim? I do not believe that Aristotelian republicans have offered any plausible defence of their conception of the good life. For example, after asserting that political life is ‘the highest form of human living-together that most individuals can aspire to’, Oldfield goes on to say: ‘I shall not argue for this moral point. It has in any case been argued many times within the corpus of civic republican writing’ (1990b: 6). But as I have just noted, these historical defences of the primacy of political life emerged at a time when people saw the private sphere as a sphere of privation. As Galston puts it, Aristotelian republicans who denigrate private life as tedious and self-absorbed show no delight in real communities of people, and indeed are ‘contemptuous’ of everyday life (Galston 1991: 58-63).” (298)

In the end, the author deems an inevitable failure the attempt to put forward a single, binding vision of the common good given the social circumstances prevalent in pluralist liberal democracies and turns, on that note, to the second strand, liberal civic republicanism. This more modest version seeks to achieve a minimal threshold of virtuous citizenship so as to ensure the survival of liberal institutions and the social conditions which they enable. If society is well-ordered and its institutions and procedures in good working order, there may be little need for active citizenship. Still, this observation must be tempered by the knowledge political virtues and social virtues are mutually reinforcing with regards to life pursuits in civil society:

“So there will be times and places where minimal citizenship is all that we can or should require. In one sense, this reduces the need for civic virtue. For example, the stringent demands of ‘public reasonableness’ will be less significant for those who do not participate politically. But in another sense, the liberal commitment to civil society as the arena for pursuing the good life generates its own issues of civic virtue. Just as the state cannot function properly without some threshold of political virtues amongst active citizens (such as public reasonableness, and a critical attitude to authority), so too civil society cannot function properly without some threshold of social virtues amongst passive citizens.” (300)

Hence the need for a certain measure of “civility”, which can take the form of injunctions from central institutions, for example, against “discrimination”. Yet it remains an open question whether society can bring citizens up to civility, what kinds of social formations are likely to inculcate such virtue, and whether the state is a position to promote certain formations at the expense of others. With an eye to such questions, the author turns to “the seedbeds of civic virtue”. When evaluating such seedbeds, it is important to recall the lesson learned above:

“So even if we reject Aristotelian republicanism, any plausible political theory must still have an instrumental concern for civic virtues. In particular, any theory concerned with democratic legitimacy and social justice must be con- cerned about the virtue of public reasonableness in political life, and the virtue of civility in civil society. Both of these virtues are needed for citizens to fulfil their natural duty of justice to create and uphold just institutions. With- out such virtues, liberal democracy would be unable to achieve either justice or stability.” (302)

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