Retrouver la raison

M’inscrivant dans la mouvance du rationalisme 2.0 promu par Joseph et du renouveau du réalisme philosophique, je viens de faire paraître Retrouver la raison, un recueil d’essais de philosophie publique. Un extrait de l’introduction a été publié dans Le Devoir et, dans le contexte du débat au sein du Parti Québécois sur la laïcité, La Presse a publié des passages du chapitre 31.

Le livre a fait l’objet d’une riche discussion entre Francine Pelletier, Pierre-Luc Brisson et Marie-Louise Arsenault à Plus on est de fous, plus on lit ! Francine Pelletier s’est depuis entre autres appuyé sur le livre dans une chronique lucide et courageuse sur le multiculturalisme et l’interculturalisme au Québec. Le temps où la simple attribution de l’étiquette « multiculturaliste » était suffisante pour disqualifier un adversaire est peut-être révolu.

Louis Cornellier a publié un compte-rendu critique dans Le Devoir. Sa critique, généreuse, s’appuie sur une lecture sérieuse du livre.… Continue reading

Telling women what they can wear is a sign of weakness

Just when the niqab issue was starting to fade, Stephen Harper brought it up again, with his rather surprising announcement that a Conservative government would consider banning them in the public service (a position that was, not that long ago, ruled out by Tony Clement). So apparently this represents a concerted strategy, of ensuring that the election debate remain focused on the pressing issue of women wearing niqabs.

Globally, I’m not very impressed with this strategy. I think that encouraging hatred and distrust towards minority groups is not an acceptable electoral strategy. Imagine if a principal decided to promote school spirit by picking out a few kids and encouraging everyone in the school to bully them. Harper is basically doing the same thing, at the level of the entire country. As far as I am concerned, it shows him to be unfit for public office. (But hey, so does smoking crack, yet 30% of Torontonians were willing to vote for Rob Ford…) Anyhow, I’ve explained my views on that elsewhere.… Continue reading

Lettre sur les tactiques de campagne du Parti conservateur

Contre la politique de propagation de la peur et de la haine

Nous sommes un groupe diversifié d’universitaires ayant des vues et des allégeances politiques différentes. Nous sommes unis par l’intérêt commun que nous partageons pour l’intégrité du processus démocratique et par notre inquiétude concernant le virage dangereux et mesquin dont nous avons été témoins plus récemment dans le contexte de la campagne électorale.

Dans les politiques électorales démocratiques, il y a une frontière éthique qui distingue les stratégies partisanes fougueuses des tactiques cyniques qui trahissent les valeurs de respect mutuel et de tolérance qui sont au cœur du discours démocratique civique. Les politiciens honorables ne franchissent pas cette ligne même quand ils pensent que cela leur serait politiquement avantageux. Les politiciens sans vergogne ignorent cette limite lorsque cela leur convient de le faire.

Le Parti Conservateur sous Stephen Harper s’est déjà approché dangereusement de cette ligne en suggérant que la religion est un critère approprié pour sélectionner les réfugiés et en attisant la peur du terrorisme comme prétexte pour révoquer la citoyenneté de certains concitoyens canadiens.… Continue reading

What Did Loyola Really Decide?

My first serious engagement in public policy matters occurred in 1997 when I was asked to join the Groupe de travail sur la place de la religion à l’école publique du Québec. Our mandate was to reflect on the place that religious teaching should have in Quebec’s public schools. Quebec was already in the process of eliminating religious school boards, but that administrative measure left untouched the content of religious teaching in Quebec’s public schools. Parents of a certain age will remember that for a number of years, they were required to tick off a box when signing their kids up for school indicating whether they wanted them to receive Catholic religious teaching, Protestant religious teaching, or non-confessional moral education.

That situation was clearly unstable. First, now that schools in the public system were no longer Catholic or Protestant, it required of each school that it provide three different kinds of course, a logistical nightmare for resource-strapped public schools.… Continue reading

Kymlicka on interculturalism vs. multiculturalism

We’ve had some discussions on this blog about whether there are any real differences between so-called “interculturalism” policies and “multiculturalism,” correctly understood. Now Will Kymlicka weighs in with a very good paper on the topic:

Defending Diversity in an Era of Populism: Multiculturalism and Interculturalism Compared

One of the things that I’ve always admired about Will’s work is that, not only does he have an unparalleled mastery of both normative theory and empirical detail, but he also has very good political and rhetorical instincts. He is not interested in doing “ideal theory” in this area, but is concerned to develop normative theories that can directly guide the practice of nation-states, right here and now.

I was reminded of the importance of this the other day, in the department, chatting with a few colleagues about current debates in just war theory. One of them, who has made rather substantial contributions to this literature, said “well of course, the problem is that the mainstream position in the philosophical literature is so far removed from the actual practice of any nation-state ever, that nothing anyone says has any relevance to the real world.” At which point I said, “yeah, the environmental ethics literature is exactly the same,” and another colleague chimed in and said, “yeah, the global justice literature is exactly the same… actually come to think of it, the whole egalitarianism literature is the same.” Thinking about it, I realized that this list could be extended quite considerably — of areas where philosophers have simply written themselves out of any and all policy discussions, by abstracting away so many features of the real world that there is nothing left to prevent the adoption of extremist views.… Continue reading

The (messy) ethics of freedom of speech

A few days ago, I took part in a very interesting panel discussion on the issue of free speech. The panel was prompted by the tragic events that took place in Paris a couple of weeks ago. One of the most interesting aspects of the panel was that despite our disagreements, none of the participants actually thought that the brutal murders at Charlie Hebdo actually raise any particularly interesting issues to do with freedom of speech as it is usually understood. As far as I am able to tell, hardly anyone thinks that the cartoons that the satiric magazine has published over the years warrant censorship. Even commentators who believe that there are cases in which the state appropriately steps in to limit freedom of speech – cases in which speech promotes hatred toward an entire group, for example — acknowledged that Charlie Hebdo steered clear of the line separating ridicule directed at religion, religious symbols and religious beliefs on the one hand, and contempt or hatred directed at a group of people, on the other.… Continue reading

Are these really the Border Services we want?

It’s curious that complaints about the egregious behaviour of the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) get so little traction. I wish there were a sophisticated, multi-faceted, complex explanation for this, but having watched the press on this for almost a decade, I think the explanation is pathetically straightforward: the CBSA deals mostly with foreigners. Sure, the Agency does a few bad things, a few human rights abuses and arbitrary exercises of power, but the broadly defined ‘we’ group is essentially willing to ignore this – or at least put up with this – in exchange for the sense of security that an armed border guard gives us.

Today, in my regular pursuit of near futile causes, I’d like to highlight just two things, to serve as a reminder that CBSA practices are quite far from the norm of what ‘we’ typically will tolerate from armed state officials and jailers in Canada.… Continue reading

Identité: l’obligation de résultat du PLQ

Le gouvernement du Parti libéral a sagement décidé de ne pas déposer en catastrophe un projet de loi sur la laïcité ou la neutralité religieuse de l’État avant la fin de la dernière session parlementaire. La précipitation n’est pas de mise lorsqu’il est question d’enjeux aussi profonds et délicats. Cela étant dit, le gouvernement libéral a maintenant une obligation de résultat dans ce dossier.

Le Parti québécois est entièrement responsable du fiasco qu’a été son projet de Charte de la laïcité. Les problèmes et les risques inhérents à la démarche du PQ ont été identifiés dès que le projet de Charte a été coulé dans les médias. Il faut néanmoins admettre que l’attitude du gouvernement Charest eu égard aux questions identitaires a pavé la voie à l’approche populiste du PQ. On se rappellera que le PLQ a rapidement fait comprendre qu’il ne donnerait pas véritablement suite aux recommandations du Rapport Bouchard-Taylor et qu’il ne voulait pas approcher les questions liées à l’identité et à la place de la religion dans l’espace public avec une perche.… Continue reading

BC has a second look at TWU law school

Today the Law Society of British Columbia held a special general meeting to reconsider its approval of Trinity Western University’s proposed Law School. It was a fascinating thing to witness.

Trinity Western University, as its President explained to the meeting, is the largest faith based university in Canada, and a community of evangelical Christian learners. The controversy surrounding it arises from the community covenant that it requires all staff, faculty and students to sign. Among (many) other things, the covenant requires that signatories abstain from ‘sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman’ and attaches consequences to the failing to live by the covenant’s terms. The covenant is perceived as aiming primarily at lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex and queer people. Many of those voting ‘yes’ today wore rainbows.

The central question for the Law Society is whether to approve a Law School that embraces, indeed requires, this discrimination.… Continue reading