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  • Culture, Care, and the Political:A Response to Chatterjee, Tronto, and Schwartz on Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights
  • Carol C. Gould (bio)

It is a real honor to have one's work critically analyzed by such distinguished theorists as Deen Chatterjee, Joan Tronto, and Joseph Schwartz. In sympathetic commentaries published in the previous issue of this journal, these astute critics focus on distinct, though overlapping, themes in my book Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights1 , and raise a set of important questions that I will address here. Although I will not be able to restate either the arguments of my book or the specific details of their critiques, I hope that this discussion and defense of key aspects of my view will be comprehensible and helpful nonetheless.

The core concerns raised by these critics can be summed up in the terms used in the title of this response: culture, care, and politics. Deen Chatterjee focuses especially on the sensitivity of my account to diverse cultural perspectives and addresses the viability of its proposal for recognizing the "concretely universal" variety of democratic processes that can be developed within new regional and global human rights frameworks. Joan Tronto questions the coherence and depth of the account that I give of care, in the context of my overall orientation to freedom, human rights, and transnational democratic participation. And Joseph Schwartz explores the possibilities for political realization of the various norms I elaborate in the book, and proposes the need for more attention to transnational labor movements and to cooperation among political parties if such universalist norms as human rights are to be fulfilled. Interestingly, these authors differ as to whether my position is one of deliberative democracy (Chatterjee says yes and Tronto no) and I will comment on that question here. They also variously call me a "cosmopolitan liberal" (Chatterjee), a defender of "autonomy" (Schwartz), or suggest that an account of equality is missing in my account (Tronto). I will use this occasion to briefly dispute those characterizations, as well as to address the fundamental questions that these commentators pose about the framework that I present in Globalizing Democracy and Human Rights and thereby further clarify the arguments that I introduced in that work. Needless to say, I understand the disagreements among us to be friendly ones, and very much appreciate the careful and understanding readings that these critics give of my book and of my overall project in social and political philosophy.

Chatterjee correctly identifies my project as one of bringing together in an innovative configuration such key notions as democracy, human rights, cosmopolitanism, and liberalism. As he puts it, this is necessary in order to respond to "the new international reality of shifting borders and boundaries," where "claims of justice and human rights have to be accommodated in a democratic setup that is open to a broader range of human needs and must display political and cultural flexibilities." Such openness and flexibility pose a challenge, which Chatterjee neatly characterizes in relation to my own view. He asks, "Can her normative framework have universal application without being absolutistic and be contextual without being relativistic?" Chatterjee is in fact quite positive about the approach I propose in this regard—in terms of what I call concrete universality—which sees intercultural dialogue as important in the interpretation of norms, including human rights, and which calls for attention to relevant differences in the application of such norms. Concrete universality also requires a socially critical perspective from interlocutors (or what used to be called "critique of ideology") in order to promote the necessary inclusiveness. In this way, it differs from traditional liberal views and makes a place for considerations not only of differential power, but of social and historical context in the emergence and interpretation of norms.2 As Chatterjee rightly observes, the approach I propose supports the recognition of a considerable variety in the forms that democracy can take, and countenances some scope for the interpretation of human rights. At the same time, I argue that there needs to be considerably more cross-border agreement on such rights than on the forms of democratic decision-making, if human rights are to serve as a useful...


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