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Identikit of the Moral Citizen

Author: Michael J. Perry



Title: The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy



Publisher: Cambridge University Press, New York, 2010







Michael Perry has shown for some time now how deeply rooted the law of the contemporary West is. Giving documentary evidence in his works of the interweaving of the legal systems and the philosophical and moral assumptions on which the relative societies are founded, he has demonstrated how the juridical debate inevitably draws from morality, customs and the aptitudes of a people. All this was considered, this has perhaps been his greatest contribution to date: he has made clear how the passage from the juridical level to the anthropological, philosophical and moral ones, all so frequent in the debates dividing the contemporary political societies, is not a pathological phenomenon, but rather a physiological one. The connection between the social fabric, its reference values and the relative juridical declinations is inevitable. Contemporary pluralism simply makes it emerge with unusual clarity, since the diversity of positions forces greater, deeper and more complex reasoning onto each of the interlocutors. In his latest publication, this connection is expressed in the title of the book itself. Perry adopts a particularly interesting point of view: basing himself on the contemporary ideology of human rights, he reconstructs the political morality that these demand of citizens. Essentially, he follows a course that from constitutionalism and the philosophy of law goes back to social reality, asking himself about the identikit of the citizen and the society giving life to liberal democracies. While Böckenförde had maintained that liberal democratic regimes do not survive without precise cultural and social conditions, he seems to make one step ahead, by adding that those regimes demand a certain ethos from the citizen. Here begins the most delicate part of Perry’s analysis. In fact, the citizen’s identikit as presented in the volume will not fail to arouse consensus as well as contestation. After an initial general part, Perry goes on to deal with highly sensitive arguments, like abortion or homosexual marriage, or the relation between judges and legislator. It is from these concrete examples that he reconstructs the citizen’s political morality in liberal democracies. The citizen that he has in mind participates in the production of law which must have the pursuit of public interest as its aim and must be motivated by secular reasons. Two criteria which, according to the author, could lead to the prohibition of abortion for example, but certainly not to stopping the recognition of homosexual unions. Basically, Perry seems to repropose the classical foundation of liberal democracies, adapting it to contemporary needs. He in fact suggests creating a sufficiently precise space for collective debate (the arguments of public interest) and to exclude the merely religious subjects. This is an obviously debatable position, which furthermore shows astonishing assonances with certain European sensitivity, particularly careful to preserve the religious nature of juridical production and the very reasons supporting it. The interesting and innovative aspect of Perry’s considerations lies in the founding part itself: the conception of law as a demanding dimension, which requires a certain morality on the part of the citizen. The idea of a minimum state, for the interests it takes care of (only the public ones) and for the absolutely practical reasons dictating its action, is generally theorised by clearly separating the private sphere from the public one, the individual and social one from the political one. Perry reasons backwards. A minimum state, in the sense defined above, requires the citizens to behave accordingly. For Perry no rift seems to exist between the individual moral dimension and the political one; on the contrary, the connection is such that the latter gives a certain physiognomy to the former. This is not such a usual way of considering liberalism. Andrea Pin

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