Liberal Laws V. the Law of Large Numbers, or How Demographic Rhetoric Arouses Anxiety (in Germany)

Law and Ethics of Human Rights 2 (1):54-87 (2008)
This paper presents the metaphysics of liberal rights reasoning on one hand and that of demographic reasoning on the other, as exemplifying two worldviews that both compete and complement each other in the contemporary German public debate on demographic decline. First, this essay outlines the way in which liberal theorists of various outlooks, perfectionist and neutralist alike, assume that a wide range of rights serves not only the interests of those individuals who possess them, but that it constitutes the foundations of a just and stable political order in general and therefore is to the advantage of everyone. Second, the essay explains how demographic reasoning questions the assumption of harmony shared by the liberal approaches. Third, it provides an impression of the way in which demographic arguments have been deployed in the public sphere in Germany in the last few years. These arguments associate the autonomy of women with the demise of Germany. They claim that by encouraging women to pursue self-realization as self-interested individuals, the modern secular ethos of Germany as a democratic welfare society may be self-destructive in the long run, since it leads to sub-replacement fertility. Finally, the essay stresses that liberal and demographic perspectives share a “blindness” of historical events. In response, the conclusion brings history back in, by historicizing both demographic reasoning and demographic developments in Germany, with the aim of defusing some of the anxieties that may have been aroused by the current debate.
Keywords demography  liberal rights  Germany  Women's rights  fertility  history
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DOI 10.2202/1938-2545.1016
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