A Conflict Between Representation and Neutrality

Philosophical Papers 39 (1):69-96 (2011)
Abstract
The nub of the following argument is that there is a conflict between the idea of (liberal) neutrality on the one hand, and an intuitively plausible idea of political representation on the other. The conflict arises when neutrality is seen as a condition for political legitimacy: neutralist political representation is only legitimate insofar as the representative does not advance political ideas based on conceptions of the good that are not endorsed by the whole of the (reasonable) polity. However, we often encounter examples of political representation that do not live up to this demand but nevertheless seem legitimate. Hence, neutralists should explain either why this counterintuitive notion of representation does not follow from neutrality or explain what representatives are meant and allowed to do in such a political arrangement. A plausible neutralist rejoinder to this is to say that legitimacy is not dependent on neutrality for all political decisions. Neutrality is important (only or predominantly) regarding a certain body of political decisions, viz., using the Rawlsian idiom, 'constitutional essentials and matters of basic justice.' However, such a two-levelled approach is not without its problems. I argue that a skein of theoretical and practical challenges to the two-levelled approach undermines, or at least weakens, this attempt to solve the problem about representation and neutrality, and that the two-levelled approach is unclear in certain key aspects. The aim of the article is, however, quite modest. It is not to challenge neutrality per se ; rather, it is a call for further clarification of the issues pertaining to the relationship between neutrality and representation
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