The frontiers of the ‘political’ in Rawls’s political liberalism

UCC logoAt the Irish Jurisprudence Society (IJS) Symposium, the final paper is being delivered by Eoin Daly (UCC) on Non-domination as a primary good: re-thinking the frontiers of the ‘political’ in Rawls’s political liberalism. His main focus is the work of John Rawls, but he also engages with the criticisms of Rawls in John Maynor “Without Regret: the Comprehensive Nature of Non-domination” (2002) 22 Politics 51 and Phillip Pettit Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government (Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1997); and, along the way, there are references to Bentham, Berlin, Hegel and Rousseau. In the end, he presents and defends a radical view of Rawls’s conception of liberty.

How far is state power precluded from certain social realms; conversely, how interventionist can the state be in protecting and supporting liberty? John Rawls seeks to provide answers to this question in A Theory of Justice and in Political Liberalism. On the one hand, principles of “neutrality” supposedly ground the legitimacy of the politically-liberal state. On the other hand, can the emancipatory goals of the republican state, in the guise of the politics of liberty as non-domination, be interpreted as spilling over into a realm of “comprehensive” values? Daly argues that the underlying idea of “justice as fairness” in Rawls work does not necessarily preclude the republican goal of non-domination. In his view, confinement of state power to the realm of the “political” (as Rawls defines it) does not translate into an assiduously non-interventionist, even “neutral” state, where “political” justice is excluded from “non-political” social spheres.

For Daly, under Rawls’s theory, “political” justice may require the state to endow its citizens with a range of capacities and powers that guarantees them the conditions necessary to enable them to pursue and revise their conceptions of the good. In particular, virtues, habits and attitudes may be constitutive of, rather than merely instrumental to liberty. Hence, “political” justice may consistently warrant radical changes across much of citizens’ lives, endowing them with certain resources and capacities, as long as it remains open to the “final ends” towards which these capacities might be directed. As a consequence, Daly argues that Rawls’s theory not only accommodates the premise of non-domination, it also extends beyond it, requiring the development of certain faculties and powers in citizens – not merely as instrumental to non-domination – but such as are necessary to enable them to realise their capacity to have and pursue a conception of the good. From his conclusion:

The anti-perfectionism of Rawlsian liberalism lies not, therefore, in its rejection that liberty may consist in the attainment of self-mastery or self-realisation per se, but in its rejection that liberty consists in the realisation or attainment of any particular set of ends. It is particularly concerned, however – and this is where it extends quite far beyond neo-republicanism in its radical ambition – that we master (“adequately develop”) as well as attain the capacity to pursue and realise indeterminate “final” ends which it itself does not specify. Rawlsian liberalism does not translate as a non-interventionist liberalism that precludes the inculcation of republican virtues, capacities and resources; and these goods in fact enjoy a less obviously instrumental role in this radical project of liberty than they do in neo-republicanism itself.