The Realism of Political Liberalism

in Theoria
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  • 1 Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam a.j.wolthuis@vu.nl
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Abstract

Recently several political theorists have argued that mainstream political theory, exemplified by John Rawls’ political liberalism, is based on such idealist and moralist presuppositions, that it cannot be relevant for real politics. This article aims to show that the criticism of these ‘realists’, as these critics are referred to, is based on an incorrect reading of Rawls’ work. The article explains that there are three ways in which his political liberalism can be said to offer a realist understanding of politics: (a) political liberalism interprets the morality inherent in engaging in politics; (b) it acknowledges reasonable disagreement about justice; and (c) it develops standards of public reason, with which to assess the legitimacy of political compromises. The article recovers the realism of political liberalism and indicates new sites of discussion between political liberals and political realists.

Contributor Notes

Bertjan Wolthuis teaches legal theory and political philosophy at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. Recent research topics include John Rawls’ political liberalism, political realist criticisms of mainstream political thought, standards and practices of public reasoning, and the European Union.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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