Self-legislation, Respect and the Reconciliation of Minority Claims



It is a widely supported claim that liberal democratic institutions should treat citizens with equal respect. I neither dispute nor champion this claim, but investigate how it could be fulfilled. I do this by asking, as a sort of litmus test, how liberal democratic institutions should treat with respect citizens holding minority convictions, and thereby dissenting from a deliberative output. The first step of my argument consists in clarifying the sense in which liberal democracies have a primary concern for the respectful treatment of citizens qua self-legislating persons. Taking the second step, I address critically the common tendency in the literature to concentrate on what I have termed the ex ante legem phase, focusing solely on the structure of institutionalized decision-making processes. I submit, rather, that the principle of equal respect for persons demands more of liberal democratic institutions to enhance citizens' chances to give voice to their consciences and influence, on that ground, the formulation of the rules to which they should conform. Fulfilling this commitment requires democratic theorizing to go beyond the ex ante legem phase and regard forms of ex post legem contestation as an extension of citizens' right to political participation. Against this backdrop, I take the third and last step and argue that a promising way forward consists in the adoption of an ex post legem version of conscientious exemptionism, granting citizens a conditional moral right to request exemptions on the grounds of conscience from certain controversial legal and political provisions.