8 Ratio Juris 1 (1995)

handle is hein.journals/raju8 and id is 1 raw text is: 


Ratio Juris. Vol. 8 No. 1 March 1995 (1-8)


Democracy and Disagreement


ALAIN BOYER


Abstract. According to Popper's critical rationalism, the possibility of disagreement
is at the heart of open societies. If this is assumed to be true, is it not illiberal to try
to justify principles of justice, which can be regarded as the subject of an unending
collective deliberation? I suggest that it is not, using an analogy with scientific
progress. Moreover, I try to show that Rawls's achievement is misunderstood if
one forgets that it is supposed to overcome the antinomy between la libert6 des
Modemes and la libert des Anciens. In this respect, I insist on some unnoticed
similarities between Rawls's and Popper's points of views. I conclude on the idea of
the neutrality of the theory of justice, suggesting a link between Rawls's approach
and the French republican tradition.

Some people are currently discussing the problem of consensus in the liberal
framework, as if the collective agreement on values was insufficiently settled
in our modem societies, and as if that fact was responsible for the crisis of
the liberal (and social) democracies.' Certain philosophers seem to be calling
for a restoration of a warmer community which alone could save us from
the excesses of individualistic ethics, and more generally from what Sir Karl
Popper in the Forties called the strain of civilization and the abstract
society.
   I will not deny that some form of (overlapping) consensus on rules and
values is a necessary condition of the peaceful management or treatment of
social problems, particularly those of coordination and cooperation, but I
submit that there must also be a space of possible disagreement.2 One of the
characteristics of open societies is the substitution of the conflict of ideas for
the violent confrontation of groups with vested interests. Nevertheless, I
would like to argue that the character of politics as an everlasting conflict
should remain. Too much dissent leads to the risk of civil war; but too much
consensus can lead to a more subtle death of liberal democracy, for instance
to the famous tyranny of the majority forcefully described and denounced
I First, I wish to thank Sir Karl Popper very much for his helpful observations on a previous
version of this text; I would also like to thank Adam Stephenson and Mark Cladis for their
relevant remarks.
2 Cf. Popper 1976.
0 Blackwell Publishers Ltd. 1995, 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK and 238 Main Street, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.

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