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Romantic Liberalism: An Alternative Perspective on Liberal Disrespect in the Muhammad Cartoons Controversy



There is an increasing scholarly concern that liberalism comes into conflict with religious diversity. William Galston blames this tendency on ‘Enlightenment liberalism’, which places autonomous self-reflection at the heart of the liberal project. This article, however, proposes a culprit that is more prone to both disrespect and dogmatism: romantic liberalism, which idealises authentic self-expression. I develop this concept by revisiting the Danish cartoon controversy, allegedly a case of Enlightenment liberalism. This exercise reveals that Flemming Rose, the editor who commissioned the cartoons, invokes romantic rather than enlightened values in defence of the publication. In contrast to previous research, I show that Rose does not portray the disrespectfulness of the cartoons as a side-effect of trying to promote autonomy among Muslims. Rather, he argues in favour of artistic provocation as such, invoking a distinctly romantic understanding of freedom of speech, which in many ways runs counter to the ideal of autonomy.