Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Liberals and John Rawls

Here’s an argument that liberals should pay attention to nature and purposes, rather than the "political, not metaphysical" constructivism of John Rawls. I, for one, would welcome a liberal return to the "great conversation."

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An article composed of glib and cryptic shots. "Close your eyes. . ." Well, in a way.

Rawls' constructivism, as he wound up calling it, in A Theory of Justice was more ethical than political. (The later book tried to be more political.) Its impressive intellectual power was deployed against a target that seems perhaps odd now: the dominance of utilitarianism in ethics and policy analysis. His was a relentless project: to see if the intuitions of early papers could be fleshed out. I think it brought a version of the liberal tradition to a resounding climax. Its limitations have been well rehearsed by various critics, sympathetic and unsympathetic. Many critics don't seem to read the whole work, and fail to take note of the attempt to bring Aristotle in to restate an argument that in the beginning seems exclusively Kantian.

For me, a major weakness of Rawls' work flowed from its relative neglect of the American political tradition, which seems to have arrived at Rawls' doorstep from progressive sources.

Yes, the "great conversation" needs to be rejoined.

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