Liberalism beyond Justice: Citizens, Society, and the Boundaries of Political Theory

Liberalism beyond Justice: Citizens, Society, and the Boundaries of Political Theory

Liberalism beyond Justice: Citizens, Society, and the Boundaries of Political Theory

Liberalism beyond Justice: Citizens, Society, and the Boundaries of Political Theory

Synopsis

Liberal regimes shape the ethical outlooks of their citizens, relentlessly influencing their most personal commitments over time. On such issues as abortion, homosexuality, and women's rights, many religious Americans feel pulled between their personal beliefs and their need, as good citizens, to support individual rights. These circumstances, argues John Tomasi, raise new and pressing questions: Is liberalism as successful as it hopes in avoiding the imposition of a single ethical doctrine on all of society? If liberals cannot prevent the spillover of public values into nonpublic domains, how accommodating of diversity can a liberal regime actually be? To what degree can a liberal society be a home even to the people whose viewpoints it was formally designed to include?To meet these questions, Tomasi argues, the boundaries of political liberal theorizing must be redrawn. Political liberalism involves more than an account of justified state coercion and the norms of democratic deliberation. Political liberalism also implies a distinctive account of nonpublic social life, one in which successful human lives must be built across the interface of personal and public values. Tomasi proposes a theory of liberal nonpublic life. To live up to their own deepest commitments to toleration and mutual respect, liberals, he insists, must now rethink their conceptions of social justice, civic education, and citizenship itself. The result is a fresh look at liberal theory and what it means for a liberal society to function well.

Excerpt

The arrangement of normative structures within the liberal social world makes available a richly substantive account of good citizen conduct, not just the familiar derivative one. The roots of this substantive ideal run deep in the intellectual soil of the United States. There are persistent stirrings of this ideal among the citizenry today. Still, this rival ideal finds no voice among contemporary political philosophers. On the view that dominates the academy, the uniquely “liberal virtues” are all and only those habits of mind attendant to the public projects of democratic self-rule and liberal constitutionalism. When a citizenry has developed these virtues, along with the more generic citizen virtues, their polity flourishes in a distinctively liberal way.

But can the health of any liberal society—and of a political liberal society in particular—be described in terms derived from liberal justice and the norms of democratic deliberation? As Glendon's concern about the spread of rights-talk suggests, people can recognize that their society is faring poorly—even if no injustice is to be found.

People's encounters with the the ethical background culture of their society must be central to any account of a liberal society's success or good functioning. After all, those encounters shape the very core of people's lives. The concerns of citizens about their society's background culture, if unaddressed, may undermine the ambition political liberals have of showing how a just regime is possible in conditions of reasonable value pluralism. As we saw in chapter 1, the bare threat of spillovers may alienate many “admissible” citizens of faith who might otherwise have signed on—some of our C-people, for example. But, as the questions of our B-people suggest, not all the reasons political liberals have to take up these concerns about spillovers are legitimacy-directed in that formal way. Even regarding the dimensions of citizens' concerns that do not go down to questions of justified coercion, the liberal commitment to answer questions their citizens have as best they are able requires that they do more in this regard. The “liberal virtues,” if there are any, cannot simply be attitudes and dispositions that exacerbate (or simply define again) the concerns that admissible citizens have about spillovers. On the contrary: virtues deserving that name must include whatever nonpublic attitudes and dispositions might mitigate . . .

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