Friday, July 28, 2017
These days it is easy to get discouraged on how divided our nation seems to be on a number of issues. John Inazu, Distinguished Professor of Law, Religion, and Political Science at Washington University, maps a way forward in his book Confident Pluralism (2016).
The book is divided into two parts: (1) Constitutional Commitments, and (2) Civic Practices.
The first part “contend[s] that recent constitutional doctrine has departed from our longstanding embrace of pluralism and the political arrangements that make pluralism possible.” (8) Further, the first part offers guideposts for future decisions and political solutions. The first part argues for both inclusion and dissent, for the free formation of voluntary groups, for meaningful access to public forums, and for access to publicly available funding for diverse organizations. Provocatively, Inazu claims that Bob Jones case – which stripped tax-exempt status from Bob Jones University due to its prohibition of interracial dating/marriage – is “normatively attractive to almost everyone, [but] is conceptually wrong.” (75) Inazu claims that “[t]he IRS should not limit tax-exempt status based on viewpoint of ideology.” (79) He extends the argument to “generally available resources.” While the Trinity Lutheran case was decided by the Supreme Court after publication of Confident Pluralism the decision seems in line with Inazu’s argument about the provision of ”generally available resources” to all types of organizations. Inazu does concede “Neither [the inclusion of dissent] premise is absolute. Inclusion will stop short of giving toddlers the right to vote or legally insane people the right to bear arms. Dissent will not extend to child molester or cannibals.” (16) I fully never figured out how he draws these lines, as he discusses other controversial topics that the majority of people strongly object to, but perhaps he only seeks to exclude when virtually everyone in society agrees.
The second part “canvass[es] the civic practices of confident pluralism that for the most part lie beyond the reach of the law.” (10) The second part centers around civic aspirations of tolerance, humility, and patience. As defined by Inazu, “Tolerance is the recognition that people are for the most part free to pursue their own beliefs and practices, even those beliefs and practices we find morally objectionable. Humility takes the further step of recognizing that others will sometimes find our beliefs and practices morally objectionable, and that we can’t always “prove” that we are right and they are wrong. Patience points toward restraint, persistence, and endurance in our interactions across difference.” (11). In this part, he describes the “hurtful insult” and the “conversation stopper” as speech we should aspire to avoid. (97-100). The hurtful insult includes terms like “fat, ugly, stupid, friendless.” (97). The aim of the conversation stopper is not primarily used to wound (as the hurtful insult is) but rather to shut down the conversation. Terms like “close-minded, extremist, heretical, and militant” fall in the conversation stopper category. While Inazu admits that those terms can be hurtful, he claims that they are mainly used to shut down reasoned debate.
In conclusion, this is a timely book and is well worth reading. At under 170 pages (including the notes), it is an extremely quick read, but the book is also worth pondering for extended time. Inazu encourages relationships across differences, such as Dan Cathy (Chick-fil-A) and Shane Windmeyer (Campus Pride) and former President Barack Obama and former Republican senator Tom Coburn. (124) I’d add the friendships of the late, conservative justice Antonin Scalia with his liberal colleagues on the Supreme Court Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan. With Inazu, I suggest face-to face conversations with friends with different, strongly-held beliefs. While social media and electronic communication can sometimes suffice between in-person meetings, tough topics are best handled around a table and after trust has been earned. Personally, I count my friendships with those who see the world very differently than I do as some of my most valuable relationships, and those friendships make it difficult to construct the straw men we see so frequently in TV news “debates.”
For more, Paul Horwitz (Alabama) shares some thorough and thoughtful notes on the book here.