Walsh on Juridical Post-liberalism and Ius

This past July, the Center co-hosted a conference in Rome, “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech.” The conference, which addressed the challenges that religious exemptions and hate-speech regulations pose for liberalism, was divided into three workshops, for which participants submitted short reflection papers. Professor Kevin C. Walsh (Catholic University of America School of Law) submitted the following paper for Workshop 1, on the general themes of the conference, which we are delighted to publish here:

I have three goals with this set of brief reflections for our first session on “Liberalism’s Limits: Religious Exemptions and Hate Speech.” One is to suggest the possibility of a smooth transition to a form of juridical post-liberalism in societies rooted historically in political liberalism. A second is to sketch out a few distinctions that will be helpful for us in analyzing particular questions of law and right related to religious exemptions and hate speech. The third is to offer a couple of suggestions about the potential practical utility of attending to these broader theoretical considerations. Those suggestions relate to the question of how to understand the role of dignitary harm in law, a matter that sometimes arises at the intersection of religious exemptions and hate speech.

I. Overcoming liberalism through transformation from within the juridical domain

When things are coming apart, it is natural to consider what endures. We are thinking about the limits of political liberalism because it looks like liberal polities are coming apart. We are interested in how to understand and to navigate whatever change it is that we are going through. In considering the limits of liberalism in connection with religious exemptions and hate speech, I focus first on the possibility of overcoming liberalism through transformation from within the juridical domain. Are there ways that faithful (in the sense of loyal, oath-bound) participants in a liberal society’s legal justice system not only may operate entirely without reliance on foundational premises of political liberalism, but also may actively reframe those elements of the legal justice system in its practical operation that push toward reliance on such premises?

To answer this, we first need a working understanding of political liberalism. This way we can know what we are asking lawyers and judges to do without. For this, I will draw on Leo Strauss, who wrote: “If we may call liberalism that political doctrine which regards as the fundamental political fact the rights as distinguished from the duties of man, and which identifies the function of the state with the protection or the safeguarding of those rights, we must say that the founder of liberalism was Hobbes.” [1]

From this formulation, we can isolate two Fs of political liberalism. First is the Fundamental Political Fact of individual rights as distinguished from duties, with rights taking priority over duties. Second is the Function of the State as the protecting or safeguarding of each individual’s individual rights. [2]

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