Catherine Arnold

Catherine Arnold is a doctoral candidate in early modern history at Yale University, where she is currently completing her dissertation with the support of a Charlotte W. Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship in Religion and Ethics. Her project examines Britain’s diplomacy to protect refugees and prisoners from across Europe during the first half of the eighteenth century. By investigating British diplomacy on behalf of Protestants in France and Savoy, Catholics in France, and Jews in Portugal and Bohemia, she traces how British politicians came to argue that the sentiment of humanity – specifically, the need to prevent innocent people, whatever their religion, from being unjustly punished by their governments – trumped state sovereignty and justified intervening in other states’ domestic affairs.

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Friday, January 27th, 2017

Civility, toleration, and “human rights as empathy”

Mere CivilityAs part of her argument in favor of mere civility, Bejan decisively rejects contemporary “civilitarian” claims that mutual respect and affection for one’s opponents are the minimum necessary for civil discourse. Her critique rests on her reading of John Locke. Although political scientists usually describe Lockean toleration as ethically minimal, Bejan contends that Locke actually imposed significant ethical demands on members of a tolerant society.

Locke’s demanding theory of civil charity may not provide the most practical solution to our current crisis of civility. However, Bejan’s reading of Lockean toleration as civil charity does have important implications for the histories of human rights and humanitarianism. Historians have recently begun to examine historical moments in which humanitarian concern for the victims of bodily depredation fused with rights talk, creating a type of liberal human rights politics that Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann calls “human rights as empathy.” The early eighteenth century was one such moment. Between 1690 and 1750, Britain began to engage in humanitarian diplomacy to prevent Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in other European states from being punished for their religious beliefs. In what follows, I will suggest that Bejan’s reading of Locke helps to explain why and how this politics—which fused natural law arguments with appeals to humanitarian sentiment—developed in early eighteenth-century Britain.

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