It has long been my intention to draw occasional attention in this place to the work of colleagues at home and abroad that inspires me. This exceptional paper by Richard Ekins provides a good opportunity to put this intention into practice finally.
Richard Ekins is a Professor of Law and Constitutional Government at the University of Oxford, where, among other things, he co-directs, with Nick Barber, the Programme for the Foundations of Law and Constitutional Government.
The paper was presented during an international conference on “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech” in Rome, co-organized by the Center for Law and Religion at St. John’s University School of Law.
From Prof. Ekins’ paper:
“The nominal promise of liberalism is political fairness and, relatedly, social peace, in which persons with different religious, moral, political, and philosophical commitments will be free to live as they please. The promise is illusory insofar as one cannot coherently exclude questions about the good from public life, including from (deliberation about) the exercise of public power.”
“one cannot avoid the need for moral judgement in lawmaking and governing and to act for what one sincerely takes to be the good, including the good of the person one limits or punishes, in no way involves contempt for those who think otherwise.”
“If political liberalism has often been, in form at least, an argument for bracketing the good, this is not the form in which liberalism has developed. (…) What has emerged (…) is a more comprehensive liberalism, which sees autonomy as the basic good and limits on autonomy as obvious injustices. (…) This is a substantive commitment, an account of the good, which is taken to ground legitimate government.”
“liberalism is now often a rival to religious faith, making fundamental claims about the human condition, the arc of history, and the responsibilities each person has to bring about the republic of heaven. This is a faith that imagines itself to be elevating the human spirit, but which seems to me to substitute hubris for pietas and to make no provision for failure (it is a religion for the strong, for wealthy, healthy adults free from dependents) or for repentance. It is a Christian heresy, reshaping (warping) elements of the Christian faith, while abandoning its foundations.”
I highly recommend reading the whole paper here: