Democracy Turns Religion Into Art: The Political Role of Irony
Despite John Rawls’s intentions, his notion that a citizen’s reasonableness requires an acknowledgement of “the burdens of judgment” results in the unhappy consequence of transforming his scheme for liberal democracy (“Justice as Fairness”) into an impossible utopia. This is owing to the fact that these burdens of judgment require a Rortian ironist perspective on the part of reasonable citizens toward all absolutist truth claims. That is, their religions become art. Rawls’s scheme, though not Rawls himself, concludes with Gianni Vattimo’s prescription that “where we find democracy we do not find the possibility of holding the absolute truth”. In other words, despite Rawls’s claim to the contrary, there are no “reasonable absolute truths” available to citizens in a Rawlsian well-ordered society. Put more dramatically, liberal democracy, as Rawls has imagined it, does not allow for a theism taken literally, despite the fact that Rawls claims that “democracy is not the enemy of religion”. Democracy turns religion into art.
Keywords: Rawls, Vattimo, Rorty, Justice as Fairness, Irony
Dr James Hersh
Professor of Philosophy, Philosophy Department, Salve Regina University