Debating Desire

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 27 (1):157-182 (2007)
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Abstract

THE CIVIL RIGHTS PROTESTS OF THE 1950S AND 1960S WERE AS MUCH about challenging normative conceptions of good desire as they were about claiming individual rights. Staged as rituals, these protests dramatized the social borders and sentiments existing in American society, and they performed a transforming vision of the desires and purposes appropriate to democratic citizens and institutions. This analysis of the reason-giving potential of ritual challenges John Rawls's criterion of "reciprocity" as the constraint on public reason and democratic legitimacy. Social activists sometimes have to revise public norms through asymmetrical appeals to religious ideals or moral convictions that other citizens may staunchly oppose. An expanded model of public reasoning teaches the importance and the difficulties of incorporating the arguments of ritual into other rights movements, including the movement for same-sex marriage.

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