The communitarian perspective
- What is political theory? Epistemological implications
- What is political theory? Meta-ethical issues
- The egalitarian theory of distributive justice by John Rawls
- The theory of rights by Robert Nozick
- The theory of resources equality by Ronald Dworkin
- The theory of capabilities of Amartya Sen and Marta Nussbaum
- The communitarian perspective
- The multiculturalist perspective
We talked about the issue of the difference between a "universalist" and a rather "contextualist" position. On the one hand, we have ideal theories and theories that take more account of the specificities of cases. We have mentioned Rawls as one of the proponents of the ideal theory even though this is not completely true. When Rawls talks about the reflective equilibrium, he speaks of the general methodological moment of his philosophical position. There are two methodological moments which are the thoughtful equilibrium that is a little bit the posture of moral epistemology that he adopts and the original position that are the methodological tools that he uses to make sense with his theory of justice. In its moral epistemology, this reflective equilibrium occupies a fundamental place. It is a back and forth between the general abstract principles and the concrete situations confronting the individual. For Rawls, the determination of the right principle of good theory can be done at a time when this back and forth between intuition and general theory allows us to stop and find a position that can be constructed and defended analytically. This amounts to saying that Rawls is not blind to context if by context we mean the intuitions of individuals. These individuals have intuitions in particular contexts or situations, even if they may be fictitious.
The notion of reflective equilibrium already allows us to nuance John Rawls' extremely abstract position. He has a somewhat dialectical to-and-fro with reality, our intuitions lead us to test and question general theories. If we are told that the fundamental moral theory is not to kill, and we are about to enter as a volunteer in an army at war and we are a minimum reflexive as a human being trying to set criteria for engagement, for example, to give ourselves ethical rules allowing us to function beyond following others; then we are confronted with a whole bunch of intuitions that we have. We may have seen that people have killed other people under particular conditions; the very fact of being a soldier means that this idea of not killing doesn't hold completely, it has to be refined. It is possible to have intuitions, intuitions about what conditions we have the moral right to kill as the to-and-fro between the principle of not killing, which is justified for a whole bunch of reasons, and one's intuitions. The moment our intuitions and the principle are in balance, at that moment we have the solution we are looking for and theoretically constructed. So the reflective equilibrium is really a to-and-fro between intuitions and theories.
Contextualism on the one hand changes the necessary empirical basis, radically changes the complexity of the cases. Rawls would say that care can be interesting, but at a certain point you have to confine yourself to public justice. Nor can we deal in a theory of justice with a whole bunch of individual questions that people give themselves, otherwise we don't get out of it. We cannot have a theory that is general enough to make everybody's rational and reasonable agreement work. Another important aspect is that this reflective equilibrium implies a particular epistemological posture in the sense that it posits that the individual alone is capable of determining an equilibrium in his or her intuitions and initial moral theories. This implies the idea of an autonomous, rational individual who is individually and autonomously capable of achieving a synthesis between intuition and theory. However, there are other theories that start from the idea that the individual is not capable of doing this work alone.
- 1 The communitarian critique of liberalism
- 2 The communitarian approach
- 3 The main points of disagreement with the Liberals
- 4 Three community theories that arise as a critique / development of the Rawls approach
- 4.1 The ontological argument of Charles Taylor (Sources of the Self, 1989; The politics of recognition, 1994)
- 4.2 The theory of the rooted self / encumbered self by Michael Sandel (Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 1982; Democracy and its Discontents, 1996)
- 4.3 Michael Walzer: Complex Equality (Spheres of Justice: Defending Pluralism and Equality, 1997)
- 5 The Theoretical Importance of the Debate Between Liberals and Communitarians
- 6 A crucial aspect of the contribution of communitarians
- 7 Annexes
- 8 References
The communitarian critique of liberalism[edit | edit source]
The communitarians, like in part the ethics of care, start from the idea of an individual, a self, of a person who has a kind of formatting of his cognitive and moral "hard disk" by the community in which he is inserted and in which he has taken life and been socialized. The idea of a disconnected individual, abstract like Taylor's, who is capable, as the Liberals say, of revisiting his allegiances, his conceptions of good according to purely individual circumstances, does not hold water. What is missing is a consideration of the symbolic cultural moral and symbolic universe that allows this work.
The communitarians are questioning the basic assumption that we need to be autonomous. For the communitarians, this rational exercise, which liberalist X declares to be a fruit of autonomy, in reality, is already the product of something that existed before it, namely language. This language is the product of a community, a cultural universe he created. We may not be autonomous in the same way in Tokyo and Toronto, not because the faculty is necessarily different, but because the way we give effective content to this idea of autonomous choice is different. The appreciation of the pluses and minuses of the different options does not only imply that they exist, in general, they exist by language, and in general we sort out the good and the bad also in relation to languages, economics being also a language like other languages. For the communitarians, the idea that it is possible for an individual to be autonomous, free, outside a linguistic cultural universe of reference is a lure leading to problems of justice rather than a true just society.
As Kymlicka says,"[t]he communitarians argue that the Liberals make the double mistake of overestimating our capacity for self-determination and neglecting the preconditions for meaningful capacity building." On the one hand, they overestimate the self-determination capacity of the individual and the liberal legal person, that is to say, the capacity of individuals to extract themselves from the context, to clinically evaluate options and to choose the one that best suits their conception of the good, they overestimate that capacity, and at the same time, they neglect the conditions that allow the exercise of that capacity. So they have a twofold problem: they create an individual somewhere that doesn't exist and they don't remember the social conditions that make it possible for them to do what they want it to be done, namely the exercise of self-determination or autonomy.
The communitarian approach[edit | edit source]
When we talk about the communautarians, we have to deal with a very diverse family of approaches which comes partly from Humes with conventionalism or Herder or which comes from counterrevolutionaries, Berk or De Maistre which is inherent in a certain German romanticism. There is a whole filiation with Hegel, Aristotle, a whole lot of origins. So it's a bit difficult to talk only about the communities in that way. Above all, we will discuss three authors who spoke in a debate with John Rawls. We are talking about the critical theory of rawlsian liberalism and we will see extra-liberal criticisms even though the communitarians are part of the liberal family putting different emphasis on membership.
When we speak of a communitarian approach, we should not confuse it with the communitarian approach, which is a qualifier of an attitude that for the French Republican model implies a break with the republic. If France is now being traversed by communitarian phenomena, it means the confinement of groups in self-referential communities. We will refer to the communitarian philosophy thus produced by philosophers mainly in the United States, Germany or other countries.
In general, there is a philosophy, but also a whole communitarian political reflection. One of the key authors in this approach is Etzioni who has worked extensively on issues of citizenship and how to give an ethical life to communities in the sense of a municipality, but also of neighbourhood. He is an inspiration for citizen rounds, among other things, to guarantee the security of communities.
Even though, and perhaps rightly so for a variety of reasons, the communitarian approach is analytically and philosophically often criticized, the fact remains that if we take public debates today and public policy actions with regard to nationalism, migration or justice, communitarian arguments are much more present and even dominant than we can imagine. It is a relatively weak philosophical approach for some people, especially the Liberals, who at the same time have a great deal of firepower when it comes to thinking about issues relating to otherness, migration or the management of cultural differences, just like citizenship. Understanding the ins and outs of this approach is important in order to get an idea of why there are so many quarrels around it. In Switzerland, there are many communitarian dimensions to public policy.
It must be stressed that there was a phase in the early 1990s when there were responses to the communitarian criticisms made in Rawls, which basically reinvested this kind of simplistic dichotomy that the fascists and Nazis were a bit communitarian. There is a little bit of this dimension, but it is not the kind of communitarian philosophy to which we are referring. We are basing ourselves on what we might call a liberal communitarianism that does not call into question a certain number of fundamental values and rights of liberalism, but that feeds liberal thinking with a consideration of the community that they believe aims to strengthen morality and justice. For them, without taking into account the moral dimension arising from the community, liberalism goes to its downfall.
Probably, what should be the key moment in the communitarian position is one of its weaknesses. Until recently, there was no operational and somewhat clear definition of what the community was. The community is a very vague concept among communities that needs to be analyzed from the perspective of what it can do, rather than from the perspective of what it is empirically. This quote from Etzioni in the article Citizenship in a communitarian perspective published in 2011 recounts the intuition behind the notion of community:"Communities are social collectivities whose members are tied to one another by bonds of affection and by at least a core of shared values". This intuition is the idea of the bond of affection and common values that individuals share.
The reference universe of this sharing can be plural. Some communities speak of "community" as the "nation", others think it is an ethnic group, others think it is a locality, others might apply it to their neighbourly relations. What lies at the base of the concept is the relationship it creates. The idea of community gives a definition is a specification of relational ontology. We are in relation with others and with some of these others we have emotional, emotional rights based on duties. For the communitarians, the question that arises is what justifies these links (1) and what makes them so that they must be transposed into a policy of rights and the common good in order to be protected (2), namely, contrary to the Liberals' argument that we must be extremely procedural, not to worry about ethics. What makes it so that, for the communitarian , there are bonds that we share which are morally significant and which must be protected by the State because to question these bonds by not protecting them would be to diminish the ethical quality of people's lives? The question for them is to justify this, to find a theory that makes it possible to give substance to the requirement to place communitarian links at the centre of reflection (1) and to deduce somewhere from moral theories about what is done with these communities (2).
Etzioni is more practical:"If significantly eroded - the nation, as a community invested in a state, will lose its capacity to provide human nurturing and to contribute to human flourishing[...] The absence of communal bonds causes people to feel detached, alienated and powerless. Such a community deficit leads some to withdraw from society, or act in antisocial ways. For hundreds of millions of people, nations are a major source of communal affiliation, even if they are merely imagined communities ". This quotation from 2011 is illustrative of the current state's idea of nationhood and why it is necessary, in their view, to defend a certain conception of nationhood. If we do not, if the Liberal state does not, then there are implications such as alienation or lack of power or detachment, which Durkheim might have called anomie. This creates social costs, demolishes societies and creates injustice. It is for this reason that for him, the recognition of something which is a matter of community bonding and attachment is necessary in order to sustain justice, to support citizenship and to support the moral development of individuals so as to give individuals a real power to define a conception of the good, a real possibility of exercising autonomy. It somehow reverses the logic: for the Liberal, we are autonomous and we determine "by an act of will" what we want our society to be. Individuals have that power. For the communitarian, this determination presupposes the acceptance of the cognitive, emotional, cultural, linguistic and other dimensions that allow this collective definition process. Without this, the choice the Liberals are pursuing is a choice based on nothing. We are dealing with an ontology that is a different conception of society. Much of the ideology embodied in the SVP is rooted in democracy, in a vision of culture, of the nation-state that comes from somewhere. The question is what argument can be used to oppose it.
The main points of disagreement with the Liberals[edit | edit source]
The debate between Liberals and communitarians lasted for about 20 years from the publication of Rawls' Theory of Justice in the 1970s to the mid-1990s. From now on, it has faded somewhat, not because it no longer exists, but because it is being rolled out in other areas such as the analysis of multiculturalism or the question of identities. This debate remains an important matrix for understanding what is happening, even if it has been criticized by other approaches, including post-structuralists and republicans, but it remains an important formatting of the political theory of the last forty years.
The Liberals assume that individuals are selfish and instrumentally rational. Selfish "means cognitive attitude, not moral judgment. It's selfish in the sense of maximizing the best option. They see their individual gains, to which the communitarians retort that the idea of rational and selfish individuality is based on an implausible conception of the individual, because another dialogical ontology could be imagined to think of individuals who are not necessarily selfish or instrumental towards their community, but who instead act in a virtuous manner for the community. There is an ontology problem that makes the Liberal ontology wrong.
Another point is that the Liberals put more emphasis on rights than on duties or responsibilities to society. It was a very strong theme in the 1990s, which is a lot of criticism that would today be called conservative with regard to the omnipotence and almost hegemonic presence of the jargon of rights and not of duty. Paradoxically, what is interesting is that the argument of duty, which occurs in particular with regard to migration or with regard to positions vis-à-vis Islam, the discourse of duty comes back. There was a time in the aftermath of Rawls when the question was a question of law: what is the catalogue of rights that a liberal and democratic system must allow for the functioning of that society to be compatible with a certain conception of justice? The duty was beyond the minimum duties that we saw in all approaches with the duty to respect others, not to harm others or the duty not to follow the law because it is based on public agreement. Beyond that, any idea of thicker duty was considered to be too ethical for liberalism, therefore too sectarian and therefore incompatible with a conception of procedural justice. The duty of patriotism, for example, the duty to serve an army to defend the borders of a community in order to protect its integrity, is something that has been seen and is still seen like most Liberals as an excessively intrusive duty in the conceptions of people's welfare. For communities, the problem is that a theory that does not emphasize enough the duties we owe to our community will call into question the possibility of achieving a common good, the quality of our relationship with the community and with each other.
Finally, the Liberals, with Rawls in particular, who were based on the idea of free will, are wrong about the possibility and desirability of state neutrality. For the communitarians, the State, by definition, cannot be neutral for the reason that a State generally functions with a limited list of languages, this State translates into public life a limited number of religious holidays, this State has a limited number of festivals which all refer to a cultural tradition. According to this argument, the idea of applying for a neutral state is an idiocy for the simple reason that the state is not neutral, the state is already in itself the product of cultural choices that have been made in its history. For the communitarians, it says something about the options the state has taken. For them, the Liberals are wrong if they think neutrality is possible and, moreover, they are wrong in thinking that neutrality is desirable because, for example, resting on Sundays is not bad in itself, which is good if it is the community and the citizens who have given themselves this value. It says something about the community. For example, when voters vote against opening stores on Sundays, one can imagine that they go beyond their mere consideration in terms of utility. In terms of individual utility, we prefer to have the choice. Knowing that the fact that shops are also open on Sundays does not mean that we have to go shopping on Sundays, but we are expanding our offer. Yet people vote against it, but obviously this something is not the same in New York that differs from Canada and Dubai.
What does that mean culturally? What does this mean for justice? For the communitarians, this counts because it shows that individuals, in their conception of the good and in their way of doing society, give priority to cultural options. The question for them is how to take them seriously.
The "neutralist" liberal model[edit | edit source]
If we want to retrace a rapid synthesis, if we were to characterize the basic characteristics of the liberal approach we have seen, on the one hand an ontological or anthropological vision of the self that is relatively fine, we are at the bottom of ahistorical beings, we are capable of being autonomous, we are technically capable of determining ourselves according to the context, there is a liberal theory that presupposes that the individual comes before the community, individuals can choose to be a community, but the individual as a moral actor comes before the community. It is for this reason that the rights of individuals are superior to the duties we should have towards others. Liberalism is based on a rather fine and procedural theory of the just and excludes the good as much as possible. On the other hand, according to liberalism, the private sphere is more important than the public sphere, we are not obliged, for example, to serve the homeland or to function for the community, which marks a difference between liberalism and republicanism. The idea is often a negative conception of freedom being that we must be protected in our autonomy. State neutrality is the idea that a universalizable definition of the criteria of the just is preferable to a kind of relativization of the criteria of the good by taking the community into consideration.
The communitarian model[edit | edit source]
Communitarians are reversing this from the idea of a much thicker anthropology, which is that the individual is strongly embedded by the community in which he or she evolves. We are the horse in chess, if we take it out of the chess game, it has no meaning, but if we put it on the chess game, in this case the possibility of spheres of action appears. This chess game is exactly a little equivalent to what the community could be for them, which is that it somehow shapes our ability to forge our conception of the good. Traditional practices and values are conceived as the foundation of the moral order. Their morality comes from values that are embedded in a contextuality and historicity that are constructed by Hegel's to-ing and fro-ing of abstract reason and concrete social morals. The community, for some communitarians, may be superior to individuals in the sense that protecting the community and its values is a way of protecting the freedoms of individuals. In contrast to a fine theory of the good, it is a thick theory that is a politics of the good that aims to defend the community. Duties are just as important as rights, we have duties to the community. The public sphere is important, a notion shared with republicanism, it is the place of freedom, we are free in our autonomous determination of our freedom. This self-determination of our freedom can only be made by making the laws we want in a Rousseauist perspective (1), and in the public sphere (2). The State must have a conception of the good and detach itself from a posture of neutrality that does not hold water. Ethical universalism does not serve much purpose, it is necessary for each community to have the possibility, within the limits of certain basic moral criteria, to determine its own conception of the good.
Three community theories that arise as a critique / development of the Rawls approach[edit | edit source]
The philosophical category of communitarians is a complicated philosophical category insofar as there is always a reference to an extremely conservative communitarian vision. This is why many philosophers who are generally classified as communitarians prefer other denominations, whether critical liberals or culturalist liberals. There are two authors who explicitly claim to belong to communitarian philosophy, namely Etzioni and Daniel Bell, who is a researcher working in Singapore who uses communitarian philosophy to see what resources Confucianism has in order to think about democracy.
The other authors are a little more skeptical because basically what they are trying to show is less the positive communitarian aspect than the false aspect of the ontological presuppositions that liberals use to think about justice and society in general. They criticize the somewhat disembodied, rational individual who is capable of systematically revising his or her conception of the good and his or her social positioning. For these authors, this ontological conception of the individual capable of distancing himself from everything through the exercise of rationality does not hold water from the point of view of this philosophical ontology. It is a false ontology and for them, this has essentially two results, namely to render incoherent the conception of liberal justice (1), and to embody in the democratic practices of institutions this conception of the individual ontology (2) referring to a rational and selfish individual, calls into question a certain number of important social goods such as solidarity or trust in institutions. For this reason, for them, liberalism creates problems instead of solving them. These are two strong theses that each of these authors deploy and discuss in slightly different ways.
The ontological argument of Charles Taylor (Sources of the Self, 1989; The politics of recognition, 1994)[edit | edit source]
Taylor is best known for his anthropological or ontological conception. He is a researcher who has worked a lot on Hegel and wrote the book Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity published in 1989 in which he tries to reconceptualize and reconstruct all ways from the Greeks who are there to give meaning to our identity. It attempts to show how, according to historical traditions, different disciplines of political philosophy emerge from different characterizations of what is the identity of the self and therefore what a just society should be.
If we stick to the basic theses, they are based on one or two assumptions. The first is that humans are self-interpreting animals, so the self "is a being who exists only in self-interpretation". Thus, the identity of the self depends on its attachment to conceptions of the good that it derives from the symbolic and linguistic matrix of the community in which it evolves. In other words, individuals are social animals, but have the characteristic of self-interpretation. Individuals are subjects who give themselves meaning, but this meaning they will give themselves in relation to others. For Taylor, the atomist conception he calls "liberal atomist" according to which we are only independent atoms that sometimes come into conflict or not, but that do not need otherness in order to interpret and define themselves is simply wrong, because what characterizes us is the fact that we are in a relationship of identity attachment that makes our identity not monological in the sense that we are in a relationship of identity that makes us not monological in the sense that we form it by ourselves. This third party is usually located somewhere which is the community that Taylor considers to be a group in the broad sense of the term that constitutes the evaluation framework. The community is the universe and the moral symbolic framework that allows individuals to define their identity and social identity through a form of mutuality (1), but also as the basis of moral, social or other meanings that the individual will mobilize to define himself (2). For communities, the idea of an individual detached from everything makes no sense. Identity is not monological, we cannot define ourselves in the sidereal vacuum for them. One defines oneself in relation to someone, and this person participates in a language of symbolic categories that are characteristic of particular reference communities, namely a cultural community and generally having a cultural language.
At times, Taylor becomes very communitarian. In Sources of the self, for Taylor, "Living within such strongly qualified horizons is constitutive of human agency[...], stepping outside these limits would be tantamount to stepping outside what we recognize as integral, that is, undamaged human personhood". For him, the fact of living in this symbolic universe is constitutive of our possibility of agency or moral action. Staying in it is somehow the only way to keep our personality intact. There is a strong reference, certainly unacceptable to a whole bunch of classic neutralist Liberals, that somehow our ability to act morally is due to our inclusion in a particular cultural, moral and symbolic context. Being dispossessed of this context hurts us and damages our moral capacity. It's a strong thesis is quite problematic for a lot of reasons.
The language by which we define ourselves is therefore a shared language, which means that our identity is narrative and dialogical. It is, in part, a dialogue that can be as silent as it is, understood as recognizing itself in the same moral and symbolic frameworks as the others we define who we are. We're in the middle of communitarian ontology. It is through this dialogue that we have with the values of the reference community that it is possible to discover the authentic self, who we really are. The idea of the discovery of authenticity comes from German Romanticism where there was the idea of the "Bildung", that is to say that we are going to perfect and train ourselves in the ever deeper discovery of who we are. The idea of authenticity is crucial in order to understand a number of polemics and in particular the polemics surrounding the issue of multiculturalism.
The idea of the authenticity of the self is something that goes beyond the simple common humanity that unites us. This authenticity makes us different from others, we can't be authentically the same because we are all different. In this foundation of common values that shape our moral faculty, everyone will have the opportunity to discover, after a quest, who they are. If this is true, or if it should be true, then this will say something about the role of the state and how the community should be recognized or not. If it is true that the community formats our "hard disk", if we are partly made up of these symbolic frames of reference of the community, it means that this community includes conceptions of the good that crystallize and become a strong identification phenomenon in terms of conception of the good for individuals. Overall, individuals will tend, because they consider it desirable, to identify themselves with the conceptions of the good that emanate from a cultural form they call community and that will thus become characteristic of that community, which will become significant moral options for the individuals who participate in that community. This conception of the good creates strong bonds between individuals and for them, it is precisely this that allows things, solidarity, that makes us pay taxes or that makes us accept laws even if they go against our interests. For the communitarians, this sense of solidarity is presupposed by a number of social preconditions that make this solidarity possible and one of them, and that individuals identify with moral options and conceptions of the good that become an integral part of their identity and their own conception of the good.
For Taylor, if this philosophical construction of identity is correct, then for him, as for Sandel, a fine theory of good makes no sense at all, because a conception of righteousness - for Rawls, a conception of righteousness takes precedence over good - for the communautarian, which will enable a society to defend a conception of righteousness, is precisely a conception of good that justifies them. For them, the idea that it is possible to defend a conception of the righteous without any reference to the conceptions of the good that structures the moral choices of individuals is something that makes no sense and even calls into question the very possibility of justice. In other words, if we do not believe that it is right to be fair, we cannot be fair. For Rawls, though, you might think it's good to be fair, even if you're not sure you're fair. He's a Rawls disconnected from the good. For the communitarians, a righteous man without good does not hold the road where will collapse miserably because individuals will tend to question this righteousness by their selfishness or by their strategic actions.
If this is true, it says something about the role of institutions. If it is true that our identity is the product of our partial constitution, at least on the part of the community in which we act and we have come into the world, if it is true that this community is necessary for us to have the possibility of having a conception of the good, if it is true that this conception of the good is necessary for us to have a conception of the just, then the implication is that the liberal thesis according to which the State must be It is for this reason that the communities suggest that, on the contrary, it is not neutrality that must be emphasised, but a genuine public policy of the common good according to which, somewhere, the community, through its political organisation, is able to preserve the possibility that individuals have of having their own identity, of recognising their conception of the good and of having valued it by the institutions and thus acting according to them. This cannot be done if institutions do not defend the conception of the good. Neutral institutions would tend to lead to a weakening of community values with all the problems of form or psychological nature towards people who would no longer be in a position to define their conception of the property.
If this is true, it means finding a system to partially protect the cultural and moral dimension of these communities. On the other hand, if individuals must try to guarantee their moral universe in relation to their conception of the good, they must act accordingly. It is for this reason that behind communitarian conceptions, there are often dimensions that are quite similar to republicanism and a very participative and virtuous conception of citizenship. It is in the interests of individuals to ensure that their shared universe's constitutive values are not only protected but also reproduced. It is for this reason that communautarians often have references to civic virtues, that is, virtues that for the neutralist liberals who do not want the state to embody a conception of the good and who do not want to assume the obligations that flow from an abusive conception of the good on the part of the state completely reject. For the communitarians, this becomes part of their conception of democracy. For example, the notion of civic patriotism of defending community values through civic behaviour is required, the possibility of highlighting the interest of the community or its values in relation to our individual interests.
For Taylor, the idea that in some cases it is important to politically protect something called community or community interest does not mean that this can be done by questioning fundamental rights. There is a foundation of inalienable rights for him, we are not going to kill someone on behalf of the community, it is neither democratic, liberal or moral.
The theory of the rooted self / encumbered self by Michael Sandel (Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 1982; Democracy and its Discontents, 1996)[edit | edit source]
Sandel has a much more direct entry into John Rawls' theory of justice. He wrote a book entitled Liberalism and the Limits of Justice published in 1982 which is truly an internal critique of justice theory. Taylor had begun his reflection independently of Rawls' theory of justice. Sandel really starts by directly attacking the theory of justice, which allows him to arrive with a critical theory and a positive argument to say something about the communitarian theory of which he speaks.
The basis of criticism is the same as Taylor's, namely that Johns Rawls' theory is based on ontological assumptions that do not hold water. It has a conception of the individual which on the one hand is unwanted, but on the other hand it is wrong if the aim is to make people think the right way. There is also a dimension of inconsistency. For Sandel, Rawls thinks badly about the individual, he thinks badly about the relationship between the individual and the community, and he thinks badly about what stems from his model of justice.
For Sandel, much like Taylor, it is necessary to have a conception of the just that there be a conception of the good. The conception of the person who allows us to think about the principles of justice, for Sandel, is wrong because it is based on the idea that Kymlicka evokes of the self or the "me without quality", which is a rather atomic vision of the individual, which is a very fine atomist vision of the individual who, somewhere in order for Rawls to construct his theory, is obliged to think that this self he has in mind is uprooted, detached and For Sandel, we cannot understand each other if it is not for anyone in a particular family, community, nation or people, we are the holders of a history, sons and daughters of a particular revolution, we are citizens of a republic. Any theory of justice or of good and morality that does not start for him from the fact that we are rooted somewhere can only lead to false, not very interesting, or even worse, dangerous things for him because he questions the connective tissue of a society.
There is no individual without a community that carries it. In Sandel's work, there is a small tension between two moments in the chapter where he defines what is community and the relations between individuals and community, he evokes two theses, notably the one that the individual is completely entrenched in his community (1) which would be tantamount to saying that the individual no longer has distance from his community; he partially revises and speaks of a thesis of partial entrenchment (2), the individual is partly embedded in his community, so that means, by the purposes of this community, he is predefined in part by the values of the community. This pre-definition is not total because we would no longer be moral agents. Sandel says that we cannot stand out simply by deciding to rationalize this tradition, this history and these values. For him, criticism is possible, but it will have to be done through categories, through a particular language in relation to particular categories with a particular meaning. It is possible to share and understand each other because we share this common ground. If we do not share language in this case, we would have to find another way, but certainly we could not say the same things to each other.
For Sandel, the thesis of the partial constitution means that our ability to develop something here stems from the fact that we are partially constituted in the same way, that is, we have sufficient mastery of our language to make sure that we can work together, but it does not mean that we all think the same thing and that we are necessarily going to do the same thing. The communitarians are often accused and partly responsible with Sandel of defending the thesis of the fully entrenched self.
Sandel, unlike Taylor, has a more specific critique of what he accuses of becoming a procedural republic. The term "republic" has a meaning in the United States. When we speak of republicanism, there is republicanism in the sense of the political model of the French republican model, which is a historical construction with a certain philosophical conception. There is a republicanism which comes from a rousseauist tradition rather created in France and there is the Anglo-Saxon republicanism which comes from the federalists of a revival of the Greeks nurturing a whole understanding of the republic as demonstrated by the Americans. It is for this reason that Sandel uses the term republicanism, he would define himself more as a republican rather than a communitarian, and he says that Rawls' conception of justice based on an interchangeable, rational and atomic individual, basically, implies that the thesis of institutional neutrality or fair procedures takes precedence over the common good. This means, therefore, that for Rawls, the community is only instrumental. For Sandel, the Liberals are unable to think of a theory of community other than instrumental to live well, to have fun, to develop a market or something else. This is inferred or not from a certain conception of private freedom or not. For Sandel, they are unable to think "positively" about what a community should be and is. This calls into question the policy of the common good.
This goes hand in hand with a lot of things. This instrumentalism of our attachment to the political sphere and to the community leads to a disengagement, to political apathy, to forms of selfishness, somehow leads to their inability to think collectively. It is a metaphor that should be called into question by the allegiance of a form of citizenship of selfish individuals, which would call into question our confidence in institutions for example, and which leads to a questioning of democracy, why should we vote, accept state injunctions or why should we believe in justice?
This liberal idea is reflected in what Sandel says. The Liberals are saying that it is necessary for everyone to have the opportunity to choose their own conception of property. For Sandel and his peers, this is not enough because there is a time when it is not enough to choose, one would still have to decide on the intrinsic quality of the ends and goods one chooses. It is here that the communitarian proposal consists in giving superiority to certain goods at the expense of others, which means having a policy of the common good and going against the assumption of state neutrality in a very radical way. For Sandel, if we want civil society and political society to be anything other than a set of cold, thin and well-founded procedures to ensure that rational individuals coordinate and that there is a desire for greater political identity in order to support identity, solidarity and the common good, then it is necessary for us to speak out and decide to defend a certain category of ends. Not all of them live up to these objectives. That's kind of the criticism they have. For Sandel, the theory of state neutrality is wrong and does not hold water because states cannot be neutral. The thesis of neutrality is not only suboptimal morally, but it is also empirically wrong for the seemingly good reason that the state decides, the state makes choices. There is no theory of obligations, everything, according to Sandel is put on the notion of law.
If we take Rawls seriously, we have few rights. We have the right to enjoy the greatest possible freedoms, to be helped by the second principle of justice, to be hired without discrimination on positions. He and others like Etzioni wonder how to think about obligations. If everyone has rights, is it possible to make sure that we keep this political society together in a sufficient way, that these rights are guaranteed? The language of rights, the fact that we systematically focus on the language of rights, the rights have become the main resource of any political debate. For Sandel, the centrality of rights is precisely the sign that we have lost in obligations and social connections. With shared obligations, we would need fewer rights. If we started from the idea that there are conceptions of good to which we should give allegiance for good reasons, at that time we would stop asking for the right to go against this. So, for Sandel, what the Liberals see as a form of progress and liberation through the guarantee of rights that allows us to make our sphere somewhere inviolable in the face of the desires of the majority, for them, is a symptom of a problem because they say that this centrality of rights precisely, which shows us that these rights are transforming society or the republic into a hope for the addition of new rights. We must not forget that the community, for the communitarians, is what gives options and we cannot be free without options.
In the article Citizenship in a communitarian perspective published in 2011, Etzioni postulates that : « A neo-communitarian concept of citizenship views citizens as both right-bearing individuals and as persons who must assume responsibilities toward each other and toward the community at large. These communitarians draw a distinction between state and society (or community) and view the nation as a community invested in a state. Hence for the neo-communitarian, a citizen has responsibilities not merely toward the political entity (e.g. obeying the state’s laws), but also toward the national community (e.g. supporting its core of shared values). Citizenship tests that are suitable from a neo-communitarian perspective must encompass normative commitments and not merely knowledge. They should test not just knowledge of one’s rights, but also a readiness to assume responsibilities ». In this quote, Etzioni describes the neocommunitarian position that would be the "modern" position. It is possible to compare this position with the authoritarian position that he himself rejects. Thus, in this quote, there is a situation where all rights are subordinate to the requirement of social harmony. In this quote,« Authoritarian communitarians view citizenship as being an integral part of the whole. They hold that to maintain social harmony, individual rights and political liberties must be curtailed. Some seek to rely heavily on the state to maintain social order (for instance, leaders and champions of the regimes in Singapore and Malaysia), and some on strong social bonds and moral culture (a position widely held in Japan) », it is about sharing common values that are compatible with a nationalist civic conception.
Michael Walzer: Complex Equality (Spheres of Justice: Defending Pluralism and Equality, 1997)[edit | edit source]
Walzer's interest is to propose what might be a communitarian theory of distributive justice. He may be less interested in questions of atomism or self ontology. Walzer, in 1983 published Spheres of Justice. A defence of pluralism and equality that also attacks Rawls' theory of justice from a particular metaethical standpoint. What Walzer proposes is a vision that he describes as interpretive or hermeneutical. For Walzer, the goods that a theory of justice aims to distribute are goods that are already the product of the social meanings that flow from that community. For Walzer, the idea of distributing goods that would be defined as having a general characteristic, universal and therefore valid in any cultural context, does not make it possible to grasp the specific interpretations and meanings that these different goods have in a particular society.
It is for this reason that he proposes a pluralistic conception of justice which is a conception that does not aim, rather like Rawls, at defining a kind of theoretical construction of what is right and at trying to transpose it in the different contexts because it is supposed to have a validity in itself, but at imagining how one can think of justice, the distribution of certain goods, but by interpreting them within the framework of symbolic references. One of the advances that Walzer's book has made it possible to introduce into this debate is to have an anti-realistic position in the sense that morally speaking, it is not possible to define in an abstract way moral principles, it is not possible to define the righteous in a general way as if there were a moral reality, for him, our moral conception is the product of an interpretation, is the product of a social criticism that comes from the following For Walzer, it is useless to speak of republics because what the republic means, what it makes possible as an idea has nothing to do with the United States or France. It is useless to evaluate a reality as being republican or not until one understands, through internal criticism, an interpretation of the meaning of this category, what republic means in a particular context. The same reasoning applies to the goods to be distributed. What Rawls defines as primary social goods makes no sense in imagining distribution keys until we have a clear idea of what these goods mean in particular contexts. He's turning the logic around a little bit. He will see in reality the ideal theories rather rawlsienne to discover the principles and try to go into reality to apply them. Walzer reverses this, saying that we must understand the moral sense and then deduce the criteria of distribution that make sense, but in the system and in the context in which this distribution will take place and not in any general context. The way things are done in one place is the product of interpretations of these things.
Walzer's somewhat anthropological starting point is to say that the goods we distribute are created. If we start from the idea, as John Rawls said, that we must distribute the bases of social respect, that is fine, but the bases of this social respect are built by individuals and the product of meaning in a particular context. For him, it is already very important to understand in a hermeneutical way, through interpretation, to understand a little bit the internal meaning, the moral and political significance of this good. It is a radical critique of the universalist model of justice. What is important is the consideration of contextual criteria, specific situations and that is what makes it possible to imagine a distributive justice that works and is equitable. It is not the reference to a criterion of distribution outside the community or context, but rather a criterion of distribution that is equitable in relation to the definition that the community gives itself of this good that will make this distribution acceptable and equitable in the eyes of the people who implement it.
The problem is that if, basically, the community gives us the opportunity to understand and we are obliged to make sense of the meaning of the different goods or values that we want to distribute or implement in a society and the community and the framework for defining these values, obviously the problem is how can we exercise social criticism, how can we deal with liberticidal practices, how can we fight forced marriage or the crime of honour if we cannot get out of it? Walzer is well aware that he must respond to this because otherwise we return to a logic of reproducing community values in an acritical and therefore conservative way. For Walzer, this is not necessarily the case because thinking in these terms would mean that there is only one way to interpret these goods. This would mean that even in society X, there is only one way to defend, define or think about this good. Walzer says it doesn't make sense because there is no society in which everyone agrees on one point and even in a community. On the other hand, the reference universe may be common or the relevance of certain arguments may be common.
Even the position of Community A, which gives or uses seasonal workers for the labour force, one could say that without an external criterion for this situation, without a universal moral standard, one cannot criticize the fact that this status is not up to scratch, that it discriminates, that it does not integrate politically or otherwise. For Walzer, it is possible to do this work politically because the country that has allowed or introduced this status is a country that has a constitution and is a country that has a certain conception of citizenship. Walzer says that there is nothing in the moral and political culture of this country that makes the seasonal worker necessarily a non-citizen. Giving the right to vote and integrating seasonal workers is not a product of living up to an external Kantian standard. For Walzer, if this country wants to take its public morality seriously, it cannot treat people like that. The reference universe is not morality, but the values of the country as such. Individuals cannot be treated just any way in a country that has a constitution and that aims to defend equality and freedom. There comes a time when this cognitive dissonance has to be addressed or it has to be accepted that such treatment is racist and dehumanizing. In that case, it will be up to the advocates of this policy to show that in their moral and political culture, racism and dehumanization can be justified. In Walzer's view, they will not do so, they will do so, but not in relation to the values of the community, but through fallacies or false positions. It is the job of the politician or philosopher to show that they are false.
Walzer allows you to think of something like internal criticism. Is the integration model wrong or just because it does not live up to John Rawls' two principles or to Kant's theory of autonomy, or is it unfair because it is suboptimal to what our political culture would allow us to imagine? For example, if we use consultation, if we use very broad decision-making processes in Switzerland, if we find compromises, if this is done for the cantons, for the language cultures, what is the reason why it cannot be done for other minorities? This is an example of internal criticism.
For Rawls and the Liberals, regardless of the type of good in question, if we ban the veil, for example, on the grounds that it goes against the conception of the good we do not like, that argument is not tenable. For Walzer, if after this discussion it turns out that for people in the community, wearing the veil is a problem, then we ban it. Entering the community also opens the door to questioning universal principles. It can lead to practices that do not live up to what we consider to be equal treatment in neighbouring communities, for example. It may be that in the name of a community the veil does not have to be worn because it is not up to scratch or because it is not compatible or consistent with the community's primary interpretation of the agreement around this meaning.
Walzer mentions bread as an argument for redistribution. In this case, it is clear that when one is in church on Sunday, bread has a different meaning than when it is said that people in the South need bread. By this example he shows the polysemy of goods, there are no univocal interpretations. These interpretations will be different. Walzer proposes the theory that there are spheres of justice. For him, the meaning of the good and the modalities of distribution will depend on the sphere in which this good is inserted. For him, liberalism is the art of separation. One of the characteristics of liberalism has been to separate spheres in order to allow freedom and the management of pluralism. The sphere of justice and separated from the executive sphere and the sphere of economy and shared from the cultural, religious or other sphere. With Luhmann's systems theory, there is an intuition that is quite similar to this one. In these spheres of meaning, goods can acquire a different meaning and thus give rise to forms of redistribution that are different.
Walzer proposes a list of goods such as belonging, security and welfare (social), money and goods, burdens and jobs, hard work, leisure time, education, kinship and love, divine grace, recognition and political power. His intuition is that different social goods must be distributed for a different reason, there are different distribution procedures that may be different depending on the good, agents may be different, because if it is the divine grace that can be considered as an important main good for the high representation of individuals, it is not the State that will distribute this good, it is the churches. The way in which the sphere around the good of divine grace will mandate agents to distribute this good can be done in relation to criteria of redistribution which are different from the criteria of distribution of other spheres. If, for example, the aim is to distribute the social good "education", a society starts from the idea that it is important for different reasons that education is an important primary social good and therefore it is necessary to imagine certain forms of access to education and to distribute the opportunities for access to education. According to Walzer, it is possible to see in the story how this concept was forged and became a good to distribute. If we go into the culture or history of this country, we could imagine quite easily that we will have to defend equitable access to education. One could imagine, for example, that there is no reason to exclude girls from education. So, we are going to imagine a distribution criterion that is equitable in the general sense, everyone must have a chance to have an education that is therefore a criterion of equitable distribution. Let's say there is an agent in charge of divine grace. If we are universalist, we could very well imagine that goods will be distributed according to the same criterion, which is equity. Walzer wonders if it makes sense to distribute God's grace equitably, for one can live without God's grace, divine grace has a meaning that we are free to refuse, but if one accepts it has a meaning in oneself. If we guarantee equal access to education, does this oblige us to guarantee equal access to the priesthood, does it oblige us to have quotas of representation between men and women? For Walzer, this makes no sense because thinking in these terms would be tantamount to questioning the meaning of the good of divine grace. The same would be true of political power. It would be possible to imagine that the fact that political power is distributed in some way at a certain level does not mean that all levels should be distributed in the same way for the simple reason that meanings are different. That's why Walzer has a pluralistic conception because he has a plurality of distribution criteria that will depend on the spheres of meaning and therefore on what he calls the shared meanings that are the basis of our distribution criteria. Using the same distribution criteria in all spheres makes no sense.
For Walzer, the first criterion a community has is to define who is and who is not a member. The fundamental good that a community has is to admit and decide who it wants as a member. But once they have decided, people must be treated fairly, so there is no second-class citizen and the immigrant must become a citizen. This argument that the main right of a political community is to define its boundaries and who the members are, is widely accepted.
For Walzer, what is important for justice is to avoid that there is a good that dominates over all. If we start from the idea that education is justified on the basis of a certain ideal of what society is, if we start from the idea that divine grace is justified in relation to a certain relationship with the sacred, if we start from the idea that health is justified because a certain relationship with health is necessary for a society to represent itself and for its individuals to live well, if each of these goods must be distributed in a coherent way with it. The tyranny of a good, money or policy on the different spheres violates and distorts the meaning of this distribution and the good as such. For him, this is the problem and the danger he sees with a single distribution criterion. A single distribution to the Rawls would be a simple form of equality, there is a distribution criterion, we distribute it to everyone and we have a form of equality. For Walzer, this is a simple equality; for Rawls, it is a simple equality, that is, a criterion equals a distribution.
What he is proposing is a complex equality that is an equality where we are equal in our navigation between different spheres. We may be treated differently in the sphere of education, in the sphere of divine grace or in the political sphere, but this is not serious, because it is a complex equality, an equality that is equal to the meaning. On the other hand, if we are in a society where systematically, whatever the sphere, we are always preterite, then in this case there is a problem. Equality for Walzer is not that everyone is treated in the same way, it is that everyone, in accordance with the criteria of redistribution, agrees to be considered just because it is consistent with the meaning that seems right to us. For Walzer, complex equality does not mean that everyone is treated in the same way and that, despite the possibility of distribution in relation to certain goods which may be different, if distribution is justified by the moral reconstruction of the good as such in a particular community, these inequalities are justifiable from the point of view of complex equality, namely to have the right to distribution as it is provided for in the different spheres and not to have the right to someone else.
Walzer points out that what is important is that the relative nature of distribution does not mean that any form of distribution is acceptable. A social good must be distributed in a way that is independent of its meaning, and in addition, a particular good must not dominate the different distribution criteria. If the "money" good were to be predominant in the various spheres, we would come up with things that were difficult to accept. For Walzer, there is no reason why a community should think in these terms, or at least not find such a community. On the other hand, it finds communities that define their assets differently, which means that one cannot compare the distribution criteria of society A, B, C and D without taking into account its symbolic specificities. Complex equality is a tool, which paradoxically allows him to think of non-domination. Walzer says that somehow, his conception of equality, in the name of a simple equality that could be the conformity with a rawlsian principle for example, makes it impossible for individuals to be endowed with a distribution of something, but in reality does not think with the meaning that distribution could mean in this context.
It is a criticism that comes a little bit closer to Sen's criticism that giving everyone who has different needs misses the mark. Here, it would be to give the same thing or treat in the same way different societies or individuals and in addition to different goods that add to the possibility of dominating one good over another. The idea is to give the broad outlines that revolve around this concept which is shared by the great communitarian authors who are the ones of shared meaning. These shared meanings come from a tradition, a culture, a context. For them, nothing is possible without special attention to that. It is possible to imagine that for these authors, Rawls' original position, the veil of ignorance is not just counterintuitive, but misses a fundamental target: it impute the individuals from whom they are.
For them, Rawls' theory can be fascinating as a philosophical exercise, but it is not based on anything because it is wrongly debated and ill-adjusted, in this sense, not only who the individuals are, in terms of anthropological depth, but also their needs and the way in which a certain number of goods reason or not with respect to their life which is their life in a given community and not their life as it could be. There are other representations which, according to them, can only be perceived by resorting to an end work of reconstructing the shared meanings by admitting that these meanings are not the same everywhere. Of course, democratic countries share a certain number of meanings, it is possible to say that they share a certain number of understandings, but if we do not make sense of shared values, we cannot understand why, with more or less similar constitutions and values, there is a system that can provide for direct democracy, others not, some of which allow the death penalty and others not, among other things. For Walzer, if there were no reference to shared values, one would not understand these variations, one would even have to consider it even worse as a species of parasites in the task of translating true democracy or morality into a particular context. For him, these are not parasites, but characteristics that are justified in terms of the meaning individuals give to these goods.
Walzer also has a strong democratic critique. He has written texts in which he asserts, for example, the priority of democracy over politics and philosophy. For him, these kinds of models in which philosophers assume the right to explain what democracy is, how it should work is an aporia. According to Walzer, it is democratically that we must succeed in deciding the shared values that characterize us. This is not to say that these shared values do not contain universal forms, because there is a whole dose of universality in a whole number of particular cultures, but it is not for philosophers to decide what we want to do. It is up to us to decide what we want and then we have to justify it so that it becomes acceptable even in other cultural forms.
Despite these reservations and elements, it is clear that there are still a number of problems in this kind of approach that can be imagined as excessively conservative in view of a whole host of criteria and moral progress. The question that remains is whether we can be criticized if we are embedded, if we are constituted by the values of a community. Ethnocentric questions can be found again. Another question is the margin of criticism we have if we start from the idea that our meanings are produced at the expense or independently of us. Is this lack of universalism, complex equality and non-denomination something that is fundamentally unsubstantiated and meaningless? One of the questions raised is whether Walzer is basically unable to justify the unjustifiable in the name of common values, even though these common values are bad for a whole host of reasons.
Walzer, since the spheres of justice, has published many books, notably in 1994 Thick and Thin. Moral argument at Home and Abroad, where he shows that his approach allows him to think of a kind of basic common denominator that could be shared by any social and political community even if it differs regarding the substantial values it gives itself. He had a lot of thought on this subject and had worked a lot on the question of universalism by taking into question the parable of the Jews. In this sense, he produced a whole analysis by showing that behind the journey of Moses there was a very particular dimension which was related to this specific history, but that this particular parable contains a universal which has been repeated in practices until now. For Walzer, if we believe in universal values, it is because there have been cultural contexts that have produced them, transposed them and convinced us that they are not so bad. Walzer does not believe in an external moral point of view which would be to know in order to become more moral. All that we have morally comes from us and our societies and their internal criticism and historical and social work. With these arguments, he tries to get out of this excessively conservative stance. According to European criteria, Walzer would be a social democrat, but philosophically one could imagine that he is quite conservative.
The Theoretical Importance of the Debate Between Liberals and Communitarians[edit | edit source]
The debate between Liberals and communautarians is an important debate that has nevertheless structured options in political theory since the 1980s and 1990s. Today, this debate has faded somewhat, namely that the masters of thought in this debate started from the idea that somewhere, from a strictly philosophical and metaethical point of view, things are laid down, the quarrel is more or less settled. On the other hand, where the debate has gained a new breath even if it is not necessarily mentioned is compared to much more involved analyses of political theory. In the case of the multiculturalism theory, it is possible to see how this debate is redeployed differently with more or less genealogy to the debate between liberals and communitarians.
In any case, this distinction, this quarrel, makes it possible to propose a rather different viewpoint on a whole host of categories that can be found in any contemporary political theory such as rights, the common good, the political community, identity, integration, obligation, justice, citizenship or multiculturalism. All these categories are thought in different ways, whether liberal or communitarian. Never, in political theory, is there a binary distinction between A and B. Rawls, moreover, in The political liberalism published in 1993, made many concessions to the communautarians because he had said that one of the aspects of public morality he defended came from democratic intuitions. This was a way of anchoring his conception of the public purpose of political justice in something that is a contingent historical product of democracy. For some, this has already been an excessive concession that Rawls would have made to communitarian criticism. Many universalist rawlsians were outraged with a lot of internal quarrels. Some have tried to defend Rawls against himself and the communitarian aberrations. The polemic is still open, but it is more about concrete issues such as global justice or multiculturalism. Walzer also wrote a lot about the just war. It is at the level of application to specific themes that the debate makes sense today and less in relation to the great philosophical flights such as the nature of man and his ontology.
A crucial aspect of the contribution of communitarians[edit | edit source]
Whatever one may think of the relevance of this debate and in particular of the relevance of the communitarian position, there was a before and after that which is important. This before and after concerns the appearance in radar of contemporary political theory of the question of identity. This question was obscured from the rawlsian liberal egalitarian viewpoint because this idea of identity was seen as entering the private sphere. A theory of justice based on a conception of ethical neutrality did not have to pronounce itself on identity issues that were conceived as being inherently dependent on people's choices. They should not be dealt with in relation to a theory of justice; in fact, they had nothing to do with the theory of justice. On the contrary, for the Liberals, justice meant not thinking about these identities, not giving them relevance. The concept of impartiality, the concept of equal treatment or equal opportunity in the liberal vulgate, a form of the individual's corporality or intellectual, does not have a particular impact on a job.
Somewhere, liberalism had intellectually, politically and philosophically solved the question of difference in identity by saying that a good theory of justice cannot deal with identity. For Rawls, it is necessary to give everyone the freedom to pursue their own identity and conception of the good in their private sphere. The only equalization we can have is to be treated as human beings, which means that we bring human rights to a fundamental level. There are a number of rights that cover everyone, but there are also forms of identity belonging that reason with citizenship, which is the bond that unites us to the State, and in this bond there is an identity dimension. The communitarians, through the different theories of narrative identity, start from the idea that identity is nothing more than a historical narrative interpretation of who we are. We would be what our historical interpretation tells us to be.
Annexes[edit | edit source]
- Etzioni, Amitai. “Communitarianism.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 25 Sept. 2013.
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