Public Values, Civic Virtues, and the Thinness of Democratic Persuasion: A Comment on Corey Brettschneider’s When the State Speaks, What Should It Say?
James E. Fleming & Linda C. McClain
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on Corey Brettschneider’s fine book, When the State Speaks, What Should It Say? (Princeton University Press, 2012). We benefitted from our prior exchange with him in the recent Concurring Opinions symposium concerning our book, Ordered Liberty: Rights, Responsibilities, and Virtues (Harvard University Press, 2013). This comment is a continuation of that exchange. He and we there observed that our books are “kindred in spirit.” Our remarks here, like Robin West’s post, may confirm Paul Horwitz’s prediction that Brettschneider’s “real burden will be defending the book from its supporters.”
Both Brettschneider’s book and our book grow out of the tradition of John Rawls’s political liberalism. As such, both are committed to governmental promotion of the public values of free and equal citizenship. Both works emphasize the distinction between permitted governmental persuasion and prohibited governmental coercion. Both contemplate that government may engage in what he calls “democratic persuasion” not only by governmental speech but also by conditioning benefits or subsidies upon a group’s not discriminating on certain bases such as race, sex, or sexual orientation.
But the two books differ in significant ways, and the differences drive our reservations about his book. First, Brettschneider’s book focuses on the First Amendment and thus upon what government should say: how it can simultaneously protect expression and promote equality. That is the subject of only one chapter in our book. Our book is concerned more generally with government’s responsibility to engage in a “formative project” of cultivating civic virtues and capacities necessary for democratic and personal self-government. Read More