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Civility in Public Disputes: Political Ethics for Troubled Times

Marie Luisa Frick
Tuesday, December 3, 2019, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

Getting involved with other opinions, recognizing the good argument on the other side as well, listening to dissenters and taking them seriously is always fraught with difficulties. In liberal democracies, however, trends of digital isolation and "filter bubbles", radicalization and an increasing unwillingness to transcend one's own perspective and enter into real encounters with others undermine the very ethos democratic politics ultimately rely on. Democracies cannot sustain themselves but are dependent on what Montesquieu famously called virtue, or in other words: Citizens who are aware of what they owe their co-citizens and on what grounds. Since laws cannot serve as sole guidance where the principle of popular sovereignty allows for changing them, we have to turn to political ethics for deliberating our democratic duties. Arguing that conflicts are essentially part of the political and that civilized competition is the ideal of political conflicts in a democratic context, I discuss such duties inferred from the democratic principle itself and interrelate them with contemporary debates on free speech and civil disobedience.