Conscience and Context

In Political Emotions: Toward a Decent Public Sphere, edited by Thom Brooks (Palgrave MacMillan, forthcoming).

In The New Religious Intolerance  Martha Nussbaum sets out an impassioned plea against that intolerance, which she sees as a pressing but almost entirely European problem. Although there are differences between European nations, Nussbaum argues, Europeans in general have a variety of problematic attitudes to religious diversity that are not found in the USA. These include “fear and mistrust,” inconsistency, “a concern for homogeneity that leads them to commit some errors in public argument that are troubling,” the desire that immigrants “fit in,” greater anti-Semitism than is found in the USA, and a refusal to debate, let alone embrace, “the free exercise of religion”. In place of this European foolishness “the American solution is urgently needed.” The New Religious Intolerance is thus at once a critique of the ‘European’ way of dealing with religion and a defence of the superior American way. Events since Nussbaum published NRI suggest that both Europeans and Americans have grounds for deep soul-searching and self-criticism concerning attitudes to immigration and diversity. In this paper I offer a critique not of the political implications of Nussbaum’s account, but rather of its philosophical underpinnings. My argument proceeds through analysis of her critique of a legal ban on the burqa which has been implemented in various ways in France, Belgium, and Italy