Conference on Travails of Liberal Democracy (Institute for Law and Religion & Institute for Law and Philosophy)

This event occurred in the past

Conference on Travails of Liberal Democracy (Institute for Law and Religion & Institute for Law and Philosophy)

This event occurred in the past

Date and Time

Friday, May 3, 2019 — Saturday, May 4, 2019 from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.


Warren Hall, Faculty Reading Room

5998 Alcala Park San Diego, CA 92110




The Travails of Liberal Democracy: Centralization, Complexity, Voter Ignorance, Pluralism, and Secession

One cluster of problems reflects that fact that the issues that governments face, both international and domestic, have made public policy decisions exceedingly complex.  The result has been centralization and reliance on administrative expertise.  The average voter—indeed, even the highly educated voter steeped in information about public policy—cannot possibly make well-informed and reasoned decisions about most issues of the day.  On national and international matters, where one’s vote has almost no chance of affecting the outcome, voting seems irrational, even if the voter is well-informed.  And if the voter, like most voters, is not well-informed, voting will be irresponsible.  Local issues, about which voters could make well-informed and well-reasoned decisions, are increasingly inconsequential, as those that are consequential have been taken over by a distant central government; something that almost 200 years ago de Tocqueville warned would sap democracy of vitality.  The overall result will be government by distant bureaucrats and politicians, a recipe for tyranny and corruption.

Another set of challenges to meaningful democracy is associated with pluralism.  A few hundred years ago, people doubted whether two different Christian religions could co-exist in the same kingdom.  Today, the people of many western democracies are divided into a multitude of religions and secular faiths, each potentially making claims on its adherents’ consciences at odds with the claims of government and other religions.  A characteristic liberal response to such pluralism has been to cultivate a stance of public neutrality regarding Truth and the good life, and to seek the empowering of every person to define his or her own identity and conception of the meaning and purpose of life. But many fear that this emphasis on public neutrality and individual autonomy is operating to undermine the common culture that is needed for social coherence and a meaningful human life.  Moreover, one consequence of this liberal response is that there is an increasing tendency for people to see themselves through the divisive lenses of race, ethnicity, sex, gender, sexual preference, and a plethora of cultural styles. 

It is no wonder then that there are secessionist movements in many U. S. states as well as secessionist movements in the EU (e.g., Brexit), movements rebelling against distant bureaucracies and different cultural norms.  Indeed, the Trump election might be viewed as something of a secessionist movement.

Confirmed Participants:

  • Larry Alexander - University of San Diego, Law
  • Jim Allan – University of Queensland, Law
  • Richard Arneson – University of California San Diego, Philosophy
  • Michael Blake – University of Washington, Philosophy
  • Jason Brennan – Georgetown, Business
  • Tom Christiano – University of Arizona, Philosophy
  • Chris Eberle – United States Naval Academy, Philosophy
  • Patrick Deneen - Notre Dame
  • Stanley Fish – Florida International University, Law
  • Miranda Perry Fleischer – University of San Diego, Law
  • Gerald Gaus – University of Arizona, Philosophy
  • Niko Kolodny – University of California Berkeley, Philosophy
  • Michah Schwartzman – University of Virginia, Law
  • Maimon Schwarzschild – University of San Diego, Law
  • Ilya Somin – Anontin Scalia, Law


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