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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 31, Issue 3, 2021

Do We Need a New Enlightenment for the Twenty-First Century? Part II

Karen Green
Pages 39-57

Restoring Catharine Macaulay’s Enlightenment Republicanism?

Can Catharine Macaulay’s enlightenment democratic republicanism be justified from the point of view of contemporary naturalism? Naturalist accounts of political authority tend to be realist and pessimistic, foreclosing the possibility of enlightenment. Macaulay’s utopian political philosophy relies on belief in a good God, whose existence underpins the possibility of moral and political progress. This paper attempts a restoration of her optimistic utopianism in a reconciliation, grounded in a revision of natural law, of naturalist and utopian attitudes to political theory. It is proposed that the coevolution of language, moral law, and conscience (the disposition to judge one’s own actions in the light of moral principles) can be explained as solutions to the kinds of tragedy of the commons situations facing our ancestors. Moral dispositions evolved, but, in the light of its function, law is subject to rational critique. Liberal democracy plausibly offers the best prospect for developing rationally justifiable law.