Should Theresa May Resign?

Theresa May should not be minister for equality.

Why not? Because she voted against equalising the gay age of consent?

Because she voted against allowing gay couples to adopt?

Because she voted against repealing Section28?

No, none of those. It’s because she’s a conservative, a position which is odious, bigoted, and should not be tolerated in an enlightened society. There should be a law against letting such people into government.

I suspect most people wouldn’t accept an argument like this. Indeed, it would probably seem ‘illiberal’ in a quite specific sense: it ignores the idea, central to liberal theories of politics, that the state apparatus is neutral regarding the political disagreements of individuals and parties. We have to respect our opponents, despite disagreeing strongly, even up to the point of allowing them to wield the machinery of state over us.

But a fair number of people have been making the exact same argument, as in the above link – and they have, as of now, 60,000 facebook supporters. The website, bafflingly, explains that this campaign “is not politically motivated.”Instead, they wish to “raise awareness of the inappropriate nature of her appointment” – an appropriateness that can be recognised independently of such messy things as politics.

There are other cases that would probably attract even more support – if, for instance, a member of the KKK were appointed to oversee community relations.

So what’s the difference between conservatives and homophobes or white supremacists, supposing that they’re all wrong (they are, in case you were wondering)? Why can objectors say ‘this person should resign – but that’s not political’ in one case but not another?

Is it that we should only respect people who accept that everyone is equal? But ‘everyone is equal’ is so vague as to be meaningless. I can say that everyone is equal, and follow that up by saying that everyone is equally prohibited from homosexual acts, just as they are equally prohibited from murder or theft. I can even say that all races are equal, then follow up by saying that they should live in their own homogenous national communities, or that ones born outside a certain area should have fewer legal rights.

Is it that some are a matter of prejudice? But what does that mean – that they’re not based on good evidence? But how do we evaluate that neutrally?

Is it that some views are ‘violent’? But law enforcement is violent – it’s violence to lock up 20-year-old sodomites, petty theives, and illegal immigrants, just as it would be to lock up anyone who practiced or professed atheism or Falun Gong.

Is it that the specific post of ‘Equalities Minister’ should constrain what sorts of views can belong to its holder? But why that post and no other? The defense secretary is supposed to ensure that the armed forces are well-maintained and well-used – so why let them be someone who supports unnecessary and barbaric wars? Etc.

So to me it looks as though the distinction between ‘beyond the pale’ and ‘disagreements we must respect’ is drawn in a fairly arbitrary way. In essence, if a big enough percentage of people find a view unpleasant, it will be regarded as innapropriate in a governmental figure.

It just happens that lots of people are firm enough in their belief in homosexual adoption and etc. that they find themselves making this kind of protestation. But the actual claim they’re making, as far as I can see, is non-cognitive in the sense that if it’s true at all, it’s made true by being asserted. The inappropriateness of May’s appointment is constituted by whether people consider it inappropriate.

(I should clarify that I’m not saying the campaign is therefore mistaken, or that we should be indiscriminately accepting of all views. What interests me is simply whether there is a principled basis for distinguishing a ‘political’ issue from an ‘appropriateness’ issue)

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