International Toleration, Respect and Self-Governance – Some Critical Remarks on Rawls’ Law of Peoples
Issues of toleration are mainly discussed in the domestic context of a liberal state. Rawls’s Law of Peoples offers one of the still rare and rather contentious accounts of how the liberal principle of toleration may be applied in the international realm. His main claims are that (1) as a matter of principle (2) nonliberal decent hierarchical societies are to be tolerated and that (3) this implies that liberal societies should refrain not only from interfering, but also from challenging their domestic political arrangements. By discussing different versions of arguments from stability and from respect which Rawls evokes implicitly or explicitly to justify his claims, the paper analyzes the various conceptions of toleration these arguments entail, shows how these relate to respect and evaluates them in light of Rawls’s claims. It argues that Rawls ultimately fails to provide a consistent account of international toleration; his argument based on the respect of self-governing peoples seems to be the most promising, as it accounts for the differences between the domestic and the international realm with regard to the objects of respect and toleration respectively. Yet, ultimately it collapses into a mere prudential argument, because he fails to provide principled arguments for drawing the limits of toleration.