This book has been written as a particular reply to a more general question. The more general question is: How can anyone participate actively and intelligently in a democratic polity in good faith? But none of us is merely “anyone.” Each of us comes to actively and intelligently participate in his or her democratic polity out of some prior particular identity. To paraphrase the title of Thomas Nagel’s well-known 1986 book, there is no view from nowhere. So the question is more accurately formulated as: How can I participate in my democratic polity in good faith? This question is more likely to be asked by citizens in democratic polities like the United States and Canada that can literally date their founding in an agreement among immigrants coming from somewhere else, both historically and ontologically (that is, one’s identity in the cosmos itself). And each citizen, either at the time of his or her naturalization or at the time he or she reaches adulthood, explicitly or implicitly returns to the founding of the polity itself, an event to which no one comes as a blank slate. All of us are immigrants with much cultural baggage.
A major assumption of this book is that this founding and refounding of a democratic polity is best conceptualized through the idea of the social contract. But surely, a contract of any kind cannot be cogently initiated and maintained except by persons who know wherefrom they originally come to the contract and for what purpose beyond the contract itself they have come to it and remain within it. In this book I argue that a democratic polity is neither one’s original nor ultimate destination in the world, and that those who think it is, originally or ultimately, inevitably come to deprive their democratic polity of the very limitations that essentially make it the democracy it is meant to be. The fallacy of originality is what “nativists” or racists usually entertain in their democratic politics; the fallacy of ultimacy is what utopians or “idealists” (in the pejorative sense of the term) usually entertain in their democratic politics. Hence no one is merely an “American” or a “Canadian,” even members of aboriginal peoples who have to discover their identity in a historical and ontological reality prior to the polity set up by those who have conquered them. So aboriginal peoples, too, have to regard themselves as immigrants in the political if not the geographic sense (although archaeological investigation is showing more and more that even they were once immigrants from elsewhere). In that sense we are all not only immigrants but minorities as well.