More on The Merchant of Venice

At Law and Liberty today, I have an essay on law in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice,” in which I expand on some themes that Marc and I discussed in our recent Legal Spirits episode. Specifically, I explore the play’s lessons about the limits of law in a pluralist society:

For the people of Shakespeare’s day, Bloom writes, Venice represented the hope that society could transcend religious and cultural differences through commerce—or, rather, through commercial law. Classical liberal thinkers would call later it the doux commerce thesis: allow people to trade freely with each other and they would ignore religious and other differences, which get in the way of profit, and live together peaceably. The give-and-take of the market would train people to cooperate with one another and forego proselytizing. All that was necessary was that the state enforce people’s contracts on equal terms, neutrally and fairly, without giving one group or another the upper hand. Everything else would follow.

Venice was less serene and indifferent to religion than portrayed. But, as a symbol, the city was important. And by drawing the conflict as starkly as he does, Shakespeare means to ask whether the Venetian system can work where intercommunal divisions concern bedrock beliefs and ways of life. His answer is not hopeful. The dispute between Antonio and Shylock over charging interest reflects a deeper conflict about ultimate values that commerce and commercial law cannot resolve. “The law of Venice can force” the two men “to a temporary truce,” Bloom writes, “but in any crucial instance the conflict will re-emerge, and each will try to destroy the spirit of the law; for each has a different way of life which, if it were universalized within the city, would destroy that of the other. They have no common ground.”

Where such common ground does not exist, the law cannot create it. Law, even a neutral law of contracts, inevitably requires judgment: Which agreements should be enforced, and which should not? And judgment inevitably depends on the values people bring to the law from the wider culture. Where people share values, law does a tolerably good job resolving their disputes. One party wins and the other loses, but both can accept the legitimacy of the system. Where moral divisions run deep and the stakes are high, this is not possible. Law alone cannot persuade people to accept decisions that violate their most basic sense of right and wrong.

You can read the whole essay here.

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Conference: Freedom of Religion or Belief (Rome, Nov. 8)

On November 8, the International Development Law Organization (IDLO), jointly with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperationwill host a conference titled “Freedom of Religion or Belief: Promoting Peaceful Coexistence Through Human Rights”  at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Rome. A brief description of the event follows:

IDLO.jpgIDLO jointly with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will organize a half-day conference on “Freedom of Religion or Belief: Promoting Peaceful Coexistence Through Human Rights” to discuss the role of the rule of law in enabling the right to freedom of religion or belief.

The event will mark the launch of IDLO’s report Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Law: Current Dilemmas and Lessons Learned, a study offering informed reflections on the critical importance of religious tolerance in contributing to respect for other human rights, strengthening good governance and the rule of law, and enabling peaceful coexistence.

IDLO’s report intends to contribute to the public debate by showing that just and equitable rule of law frameworks are an essential requirement for societies to safeguard the right to freedom of religion or belief, and to balance this right fairly with other rights and interests. Strong legal frameworks can also help to reduce the capacity of extremist organizations to draw public support and legitimacy from politicized religious rhetoric.

Format:

The conference will take place during the morning of Tuesday 8 November 2016 at the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation in Rome. The event is scheduled to start at 9.30am and will close at 12.30pm.

IDLO’s new report Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Law: Current Dilemmas and Lessons Learned will be distributed to participants during the conference.

Working languages: English and Italian (with simultaneous translation)

Participation:

Event participation is by invitation only.

More information on the event can be found here.

Harris & Nawaz, “Islam and the Future of Tolerance”

In October, Harvard University Press will release “Islam and the Future of Tolerance” by Sam Harris (Project Reason) and Maajid Nawaz (Quilliam). The publisher’s description follows:

In this short book, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz invite you to join an urgently needed conversation: Is Islam a religion of peace or war? Is it amenable to reform? Why do so many Muslims seem drawn to extremism? What do words like Islamismjihadism, and fundamentalism mean in today’s world?

Remarkable for the breadth and depth of its analysis, this dialogue between a famous atheist and a former radical is all the more startling for its decorum. Harris and Nawaz have produced something genuinely new: they engage one of the most polarizing issues of our time—fearlessly and fully—and actually make progress.

Emon, “Religious Pluralism in Islamic Law”

In November, Oxford University Press will publish Religious Pluralism in Islamic Law (OUP November 2012) by Anver M. Emon (U. of Toronto’s Faculty of Law). The publisher’s description follows.

The question of tolerance and Islam is not a new one. Polemicists are certain that Islam is not a tolerant religion. As evidence they point to the rules governing the treatment of non-Muslim permanent residents in Muslim lands, namely the dhimmi rules that are at the center of this study. These rules, when read in isolation, are certainly discriminatory in nature. They legitimate discriminatory treatment on grounds of what could be said to be religious faith and religious difference. The dhimmi rules are often invoked as proof-positive of the inherent intolerance of the Islamic faith (and thereby of any believing Muslim) toward the non-Muslim.
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Clark, “Abraham’s Children”

The s0-called Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all claim to be the People of God. In fact, each claims to be the  People of God, to the exclusion of the others. One possible implication is that rival claimants are imposters who must be punished, and at times each Abrahamic religion has behaved very intolerantly towards adherents of the other faiths. That is not the only possible implication, however. Rather than anticipate the Last Judgment, one might leave punishment to God and show charity to the members of the other covenants, and at times each Abrahamic religion has been tolerant of its rivals. A new book by Calvin College Professor Kelly James Clark, Abraham’s Children: Liberty and Tolerance in an Age of Religious Conflict (Yale 2012), emphasizes this second, more hopeful response. The publisher’s description follows:

Scarcely any country in today’s world can claim to be free of intolerance. Israel and Palestine, Northern Ireland, Sudan, the Balkans, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and the Caucasus are just some of the areas of intractable conflict apparently inspired or exacerbated by religious differences. Can devoted Jews, Christians, or Muslims remain true to their own fundamental beliefs and practices, yet also find paths toward liberty, tolerance, and respect for those of other faiths?

In this vitally important book, fifteen influential practitioners of the Abrahamic religions address religious liberty and tolerance from the perspectives of their own faith traditions. Former president Jimmy Carter, Rabbi Arik Ascherman, Indonesia’s first democratically elected president, Abdurrahman Wahid, and the other writers draw on their personal experiences and on the sacred writings that are central in their own religious lives. Rather than relying on “pure reason,” as secularists might prefer, the contributors celebrate religious traditions and find within them a way toward mutual peace, uncompromised liberty, and principled tolerance. Offering a counterbalance to incendiary religious leaders who cite Holy Writ to justify intolerance and violence, the contributors reveal how tolerance and respect for believers in other faiths stand at the core of the Abrahamic traditions.