Religious Foundations?

The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy
Michael J. Perry
Cambridge University Press, $80, 224 pp.

Michael J. Perry, a prolific legal theorist who teaches at Emory Law School, is well known in the academy and to the readers of Commonweal. His latest book, The Political Morality of Liberal Democracy, is characteristically wide-ranging and forceful—nothing less than an effort to define and defend the moral convictions that should guide legal practices in liberal democratic regimes.

The book is divided into four sections. The first focuses on the relation between liberal democracy, human rights, and religious faith. The second elaborates three liberal democratic first principles—the rights to moral equality, religious freedom, and moral freedom. The third applies these principles to two hot-button cultural issues, abortion and same-sex marriage. The final section offers an account of the courts’ appropriate role in protecting constitutional rights.

Perry is always interesting and challenging, and the reviewer is tempted to engage him on every front. I shall resist that temptation and focus instead on what I take to be Perry’s most important thesis, advanced in section 1—namely, that the public morality of liberal democracy requires, cannot do without, religious faith. As he puts it, “The point is not that one cannot live one’s life in accord with the fact (if it is a fact) that every human being has inherent dignity.... The point is simply that it is open to serious question whether a secular worldview can bear the weight of the claim that...

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About the Author

William Galston is Ezra Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. He is the author of Liberal Purposes and Liberal Pluralism, both published by Cambridge University Press. Galston served as deputy assistant for domestic policy under President Bill Clinton, 1993–95.