William GalstonNovember 13, 2006 - 5:40pm0 comments
Is Democracy Possible Here?
Principles for a New Political Debate
Princeton University Press, $19.95, 192 pp.
Ronald Dworkin is a distinguished legal philosopher who also participates actively in academic debates concerning moral and political philosophy. As a longtime contributor to the New York Review of Books, he also comments regularly, as a public intellectual, on questions of policy and politics. Is Democracy Possible Here? represents a fusion of these modes-an effort to reconfigure American political discourse around basic moral principles.
It is hard to quarrel with Dworkin’s point of departure. Contemporary American politics is not only polarized, but stupidly so. Combatants hurl words at their adversaries like infantrymen flinging grenades from foxholes. The point is not to persuade, but rather to demonize and if possible destroy. Dworkin asks whether this rhetorical free-fire zone corresponds with the deep structure of our politics. Is it the case that red and blue America have so little in common that political speech is war by other means? On closer inspection, might we not agree on certain basic principles, and might these principles not serve as the basis of a more reasonable and productive political debate?
Dworkin answers these questions in the affirmative. He believes he has identified two principles-two dimensions of human dignity-that we share, regardless of our political differences. The first he calls the principle of intrinsic value. It holds that “each human life has a special kind of...