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Political Liberalism New edition Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231052498
ISBN-10: 0231052499
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

With the publication of his first book, A Theory of Justice ( LJ 4/1/72), Harvard philosopher Rawls catapulted himself into the first rank of contemporary political philosophers. His difficult and rewarding book offered an ingenious defense of the "social contract" as binding society together in the interests of not only justice but fairness. With Political Liberalism , his second book, Rawls responds to his critics by confronting the dilemmas inherent in developing a liberal theory of the good society that acknowledges cultural diversity and ethical pluralism. His approach is to "describe the steps whereby a constitutional consensus on certain principles of basic political rights and liberties and on democratic procedures become an overlapping consensus." Not all readers will be satisfied by his solution, but they will be dazzled by his clarity of purpose and logic. Highly recommended for academic libraries.
- Kent Worcester, Social Science Research Council, New York
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"An extraordinary well-reasoned commentary on A Theory of Justice.... a decisive turn towards political philosophy, as opposed to normative philosophizing on public affairs." -- Times Literary Supplement


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Product Details

  • Series: The John Dewey Essays in Philosophy (Book 4)
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New edition edition (April 15, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231052499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231052498
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,826,722 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Guillermo Maynez on March 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Building upon his previous book, "A Theory of Justice", Rawls's thought evolves towards a better comprehension of society, constitutions, and what kind of institutional engineering would be able to best design a "good" (as opposed to "perfect") society. Now, Rawls has revised his previous conception of society: it is not necessary that a society is relatively homogeneous in the moral beliefs of its elements; it is sufficient that the political institutions are suitable to accomodate every line of thought that is not against the "overlapping consensus" of society.
What is this? Rawls calls "overlapping consensus" those beliefs and principles about which every societal group is coincident. The most obvious is that murder is not acceptable and should be hardly punished, that people's goods have to be protected from theft, that free speech should be guaranteed, etc. The overlapping consensus is the sum of every group's own consensus, and thus it should be the core of the Constitution: the principles on which everybody, or almost everybody excluding criminals and other misfits, agree.
Second, Rawls reviews his concept of the "original position". Many critics of Rawls argue that this concept is totally theoretical and impossible to achieve in practice. And they're right. This is not a manual for politicians or a book on public policy: it's pure political philosophy, and certainly of the highest sort. In the "original position", Rawls says that good constitutions and legal systems would be best accomplished by people ignorant of their position in society.
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Format: Paperback
Imagine that the U.S.A. has decided to re-found itself, and you have been elected by a large geographical constituency as one of the founding fathers who must negotiate the principles for a new Constitution; further imagine that you are similarly elected to the Constitutional Convention to draft the new constitution under these principles, the Legislature which translates this constitution into law, and the Supreme Court which interprets this law in the light of experience.

You must do your duty by the people who have elected you and the generations to follow, but your electorate has no specific social character and your only mandate is to found a just constitution which will provide stable conditions for social cooperation and a well-ordered society.

How will you conduct yourself in negotiations with your fellow nation-founders? What kind of reasoning can you rely upon? You have your beliefs, but the others hold to different beliefs. And you are going to have to justify your actions to your constituency which is made up of all kinds of people, with all kinds of beliefs and all kinds of interests. You are going to have to explain yourself in a way which will seem reasonable to people who may not share your beliefs and be acceptable to those who do share your beliefs.

This is the thought experiment which John Rawls invites his readers to conduct. Rawls argues that ever since Catholicism and Protestantism fought each other to a standstill in Renaissance Europe, and the separation of Church and State was accepted as unavoidable, "reasonable pluralism" has become a fact of life for modern societies, and a fact which should be welcomed.
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Rawl's work here takes his previous articulation of justice and places it inside the context of 'reasonable' society characterized by pluralism (i.e., various peoples who adhere to incompatible comprehensive doctrines). Their coexistence is made possible by the existence of the political 'overlapping consensus'. This entire work awed me page to page. The arguments within this book have the rare beauty of answering many of your questions as they enter your head. Such a work cannot be skimmed, but it must be perused. Even if, like myself, you are not a specialist in politics, this will be an engaging and fruitful reward if the time is taken to read it and ponder it. Rawls has created a truly wonderful contribution to civil society.
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John Rawls is an extraordinary modern political philosopher. "Political Liberalism" is book that lays out Rawls theory of the "Reasonable Society". In what can best be described as great novel like prose, Rawls lays out his formula for getting Homo Sapiens to a Reasonable Society.
A Reasonable Society is contrasted by Rawls to that of a Rational Society. While on the surface these two concepts appear to be indistinguishable, they are in fact a good deal different.
A Rational Society is one that is predicated upon logic as its defining concept. A Reasonable Society on the other hand goes beyond this narrower concept of society and adds the idea of man posing a kind of morality in addition to his rational pre-disposition.
Rawls theory as presented in Political Liberalism" is well written and tightly argued in the best tradition of both modern and ancient philosophers. With "Political Liberalism" Rawls take the theories of some our greatest political philosophers and makes a significant contribution to extending their work.

This book is so well written, it can be read and enjoyed by just about anyone. If you ever wondered why or democratic institutions no longer seem to work, where the politics of conflict seem the only realty, when you want to know what makes this country so unique and which holds such promise for the rest of the world, you will see these concepts in a engaging read.
Highly recommend.
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