Ronald Dworkin: A question of principles or prejudice

From the Sieghart Lecture, given by the Professor of Law at London University
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The Independent Online

If a nation believes that the lives of some people – Jews rather than Aryans, blacks rather than whites, infidels rather than believers – do not have an importance equal to that of the majority or the masters, then how can we hope to find principles consistent with that which will endorse the rights that we think must be recognised?

If a nation thinks that human life is to be lived only as an aspect of a greater or collective single life of the community then how can we hope to find a basis for freedom of conscience and religion and dissent?

Now I think that if we are to go beyond the carrot and the stick, we will do that only in service of the following hope, and that is that certain post-Enlightenment values have a greater natural appeal to the human sensibility.

There are scholars all over the world – I can think of two Islamic scholars for example, Akhil Bilgrame and Abdullah An-Naim – who argue that the Koran and the other sacred texts of Islam must, like any other great religious writing, be interpreted and that they can be interpreted successfully against certain principles.

It may seem bizarre to hope for the appearance of much of that sensibility now, while the massacres of New York and the Jewish Seder and Jenin are still so lively in our mind. But scholars must do what they can, and my suggestion is that we do better by reminding ourselves of our own deepest convictions and attempting to strike a chord, attempting to make those values contagious elsewhere. That is better certainly than to embrace a false cultural relativism, and in the conversations that we might hope to construct over the decades along this line, we have one signal advantage; we have truth on our side.