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Modern Kantianism in Political Theory: The Ideal of Justification of the Priority of Democracy over Justice

Martin Ebeling
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Martin Ebeling
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt
Open Panel

Abstract

I argue that modern Kantianism in political philosophy, focusing in my criticism on Rawls and Habermas, faces a severe problem reconciling the ideal of justification and the normative priority of justice with the reality of disagreement in democratic societies. Modern Kantianism either has to make consensus understood as a shared conception of the common good a presupposition of the democratic process or postulate that consensus can be viewed as the expected outcome of the process. I argue that these alternatives are both normatively and descriptively inadequate for modern pluralistic societies. Consequently, I develop a disagreement model of democracy which rejects both justice and (ideal and/or actual) consensus as a standard of legitimacy of a political order and reinstates disagreement at the center of democratic politics. This greater descriptive-analytical adequacy, however, brings into question the possibility of justifying normative claims within the model developed. Explicating the normative dimension of the model, I subsequently argue that a theory of democracy needs to accord normative weight to the disagreement about conceptions of the common good itself and construct a conception of equality on this basis (which, I claim, in turn underlies any plausible theory of democracy which aims to transcend the analytical level) which I call the Equal Epistemic Respect conception. This conception, I argue is itself inherent in Kant’s practical philosophy. The upshot of the discussion then is that while modern Kantianism can hold on to the ideal of a justifiable political order, it can only do so by granting democracy a priority over justice as standard of legitimacy. The arguments for all this, however, are themselves of Kantian heritage.