Retracing Liberalism and Remaking Nature


Dov FoxFollow

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The liberal theory that permeates our law and politics embodies an emancipatory vision of freedom that seeks to transcend arbitrary limits on how people choose to lead their lives. In the 17th century, John Locke defied the encroachment of religious and political authority; in the 19th century, John Stuart Mill resisted the hierarchical bonds of wealth and status; today, liberals like Ronald Dworkin urge us to transcend the biological limits on human freedom by refashioning nature and even ourselves. Liberal respect for individual autonomy at the same time requires that we make collective decisions about the genetic manipulation of animals and offspring without reference to formative ideals.

This Article rejects the conventional account of public reason as it applies to advances in biotechnology. I argue that political deliberation about these practices cannot be reduced to the common denominator of liberal freedom. Whether it is reasonable to set aside metaphysical beliefs when we make law and decide cases about genetic engineering depends on how we answer the deeper questions it presupposes about why, if at all, animal integrity and the natural lottery are worthy preserving. Divisive though these concerns are in a pluralistic society, it is incoherent and undesirable to set them aside when we deliberate together about how to manage our emerging powers of biotechnology