Voegelin, Rawls, and the Persistence of Liberal Civil Theology

HomeArticlesVoegelin, Rawls, and the Persistence of Liberal Civil Theology

Eric Voegelin published his essay “The Oxford Political Philosophers” in 1953, a time of prosperity in Britain, which had gradually recovered from the ravages of the Second World War.[1]  Even the tense atmosphere of the Cold War was relaxing for the moment, as the hot war in Korea was ending with an armistice, albeit one that fell short of an effective peace treaty.  Winston Churchill, who had returned to Downing Street after defeating the governing Labor Party two years before, was urging the United States to engage in détente with the Soviet Union in the wake of Stalin’s demise that same year.  In Britain, the political scene was calm.  Churchill’s Conservatives were continuing Laborite policies in the areas of nationalization and trade union reform, thus displaying their utter lack of interest in returning to the days of laissez-faire.[2]  In short, Britain was an island of stability, eight years after the Second World War ended.

Voegelin respected the achievement of political moderation that resulted from the strength of the English temperament.  In fact, this achievement had reinforced the post-war demand that the modern nation-state, whose very existence had been threatened by various wars since the Reformation, should imitate “democracy in the Anglo-Saxon sense.” (OPP, 25)  Voegelin warned, however, that this demand ignored the distinctive histories of European and Asian states.  From the vantage point of political philosophy, then, it was imperative “to separate the essential from the historically contingent and to break with the habit of treating the institutions of a particular national state at a particular time as if they truly manifested the nature of man.” (OPP, 25)

What, then, specifically contributed to the particular success of fair Albion?  Voegelin did not discount the role of good luck here.  “The fortunes of history have granted England a breathing spell between the gnostic movements of the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries; a great political culture has grown, its durability endowed its symbols with the pseudo-eternity of principles, and it has engendered loyalties that motivate justification rather than dissolving criticism.” (OPP, 37)  It is not that English history lacked harsh experience with civil wars or struggles with authoritarianism.  Voegelin is particularly hard on Hobbes and Locke for justifying religious intolerance (towards Catholics, for example) in the name of secular freedom. (OPP, 35-38) Yet, as George Grant once observed, the English “confidence in their liberalism saved them from taking seriously the traditions which proceeded either from Rousseau or from Nietzsche.”[3] Towards the end of his essay, Voegelin credits the presence of “enough Christian substances” for having the moderating effect of making “at least the worst sort of good consciences socially ineffective.” (OPP, 45)  In other words, Christianity reminds humanity of the tension between the ways of the world and the truth (to be in the world but not of it).  Despite the savagery of two world wars, England’s version of Christian faith had helped the island muddle through, to invoke Churchill’s famous phrase, even as it enjoyed its relative isolation from the convulsions of the Continent.  Whether the Oxfordian political philosophers appreciated the indispensable nature of this religious precondition was another question.

One of the recurrent themes in Voegelin’s essay on the Oxfordians is that these political philosophers of the English tradition, some of whom wrote major political works after World War II, were unprepared to weather the ideological storms that modernity has unleashed. The various authors whom Voegelin examines (including T. H. Green, Sir Ernest Barker, and R. G. Collingwood) were collectively guilty of ignoring the fundamental tension between their ideas and political reality.  These gentlemen thought that their ideas conformed well with the English way of life, which they mistakenly assumed to be the universal norm for all of humanity.  Voegelin’s sharp indictment of J. D. Mabbott’s work[4] on the citizen’s obligation to the state applies equally well to all of the Oxfordians that he critically analyzes:

“(T)he reader, while being a little envious of the happiness that such assurance must confer on its possessor, will also feel a little uneasy about a philosopher in such harmony with his environment.  He will remember Plato and Aristotle, who did not hesitate to rank Hellenic political culture higher than any other but found enough of a gulf between standards and reality to make them despair that a well-ordered polis could ever be realized in Hellas.  The Oxford political philosophers do not adopt the classic philosophical attitude that reality at its best is still far from conforming with principles.” (OPP, 29)

These Oxfordian philosophers were perhaps whistling in the graveyard while they easily assumed that respect for a “good conscience” could keep England decent and stable.  At the end of his essay, Voegelin warns that even the “Christian substances” that have had a moderating impact on England’s politics may not save her from a “nihilistic theory of conscience” that paves the way for “the totalitarian killers.” (OPP, 46) The naïve Oxfordian faith in a good conscience was a poor defense against the most radical political movements that have wreaked havoc in the name of a good conscience (Hegel’s concept of the “beautiful soul” comes to mind here.)

In the discussion to follow, I shall apply Voegelin’s critique of post-World War II Oxfordian political philosophy to the philosophy of John Rawls, whose influence on the analytical tradition of philosophy far surpasses the collective impact of the Oxfordians that Voegelin discusses.[5]  The connection between Oxford and Rawls, who taught philosophy at Harvard until his death in 2002, is not hard to fathom.  In 1952, a year before the publication of Voegelin’s essay, Rawls went to Oxford on a Fulbright Scholarship, where he spent “a critical year” studying under Isaiah Berlin and H. L. A. Hart.[6]  In fact, Rawls may be more “Oxfordian” than the Oxfordians who are subject to Voegelin’s critique.  David Boucher, in his introduction to R. G. Collingwood’s The New Leviathan (1942), notes that Collingwood’s hostility to analytical philosophy obscured the “affinities” that he shared with this tradition.  The New Leviathan, a work that Voegelin discusses in his essay, does not quite count as an analytical contribution to political philosophy, a discourse that was “in suspended animation awaiting revival by such philosophers as Rawls and Nozick.”[7]

Although it is absurd to contend that Rawls revived political philosophy in toto, it is safe to claim that analytical political philosophy was severely limited until A Theory of Justice, Rawls’s first and most famous work, appeared in 1971.  The analytical philosopher Kai Nielsen, one of Rawls’s friendly interpreters, argues that the “most undeveloped side of analytical philosophy was political philosophy” until this work came along.  According to Nielsen, the publication of A Theory of Justice breathed new life into a side of philosophy that had long been ignored or neglected within the analytical tradition. Nielsen writes:

“John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice brought back to English-speaking philosophy the tradition of systematic and holistic socio-political philosophy. It was also the first book written in English on moral and political thought during the post-War era which received extensive attention outside of philosophy. It also gave us a sense of how we could systematically do moral and social philosophy with discipline and sophistication and how, as well, in doing so we could set aside questions of metaethics or the analysis of moral concepts.”[8]

Despite this achievement, a few readers have wondered whether Rawls unwittingly continued what Voegelin diagnosed as the Oxfordian tendency of easy philosophical conformity with the political status quo.[9]  I have already noted that Voegelin published his essay on the peaceful Britain that existed in 1953.  Rawls published A Theory of Justice in the America of 1971.  Rawls’s republic was embroiled in the Vietnam War, although President Nixon had already begun the gradual withdrawal of American boots on the ground while drastically escalating the aerial bombing of North Vietnam.  Racial strife and campus unrest were heating up the political temperature of the divided republic.  Although the war itself had taken a terrible toll in blood and treasure, its humiliating end was still four years away, when the last helicopters took off from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon while North Vietnamese tanks rolled into the city.

Rawls writes as if the Vietnam War and other struggles that dominated the 1960s never happened.  In fact, the human beings whom Rawls describes in this work do not seem to have real lives.  The hypothetical “original position” that Rawls sets out in his book deliberately abstracts from real life human beings who seek a truly just social contract.  Rawls’s potential citizens must exist in a “veil of ignorance” of their identities—their race, gender, talents, and socioeconomic status—so that they can objectively decide on a just regime that will extend “primary goods” (e.g., rights, economic well-being) to all human beings. This veil “ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances.”[10]  From this rational calculation, Rawls derives two principles of justice:  “equality in the assignment of basic duties and rights” and the acceptance of “inequalities of wealth and authority” on the condition that they benefit “the least advantaged members of society.” (TJ, 13) The result of this process is the achievement of “justice as fairness.” (TJ, 11)

Thus, Rawls has little interest in human beings who know their tradition, faith, or class position in an actual existing society.[11]  In the recurring debate over Rawls’s legacy, this timeless question arises: what exactly makes a decent liberal regime possible? A Voegelinian emphasis on the religious preconditions that ground this regime provides, I shall argue, an essential philosophical framework for critically evaluating Rawls’s defense of liberalism.

Voegelin and the Place of A Theory of Justice in the Tradition

In a lecture at Hillsdale College in 1977, Voegelin made some brief remarks on Rawls’s A Theory of Justice.  Voegelin acknowledged the obvious fact that the publication of this work was a “major event” that had garnered a great deal of media and scholarly attention.  Whether this attention was justified was another matter.  Voegelin took aim at Rawls for failing to understand the proper preconditions of justice, a theme that is recurrent throughout Plato’s Republic.  Instead, Rawls had come up with a “theory of injustice,” based on faulty premises that ignore what makes justice possible in the first place:

“If you apply philosophical language (which is originally the Platonic), then, in Platonic language, Rawls’ theory would be a theory of injustice, because justice presupposes the openness toward divine reality as the [operating factor in the existent of a society in history], while Mr. Rawls uses [language] as the constructive factor–what he does is an ideological construct [making] certain assumptions in original [propositions which make certain assertions about] information or non-information and so on. [There are a number] of assumptions which he uses himself in order to arrive . . . at the result of something which comes more or less close to a New-Leftist egalitarianism. That is, he starts from a certain opinion, as Plato would call it, a doxa, of certain egalitarianism. Then [he] tries to find–in order to support his faith–a number of axioms. These axioms he has to invent for the purpose. He calls his purpose a theory (Plato would call it a doxa). It isn’t a theory. It is a non-theory. And the result is then a conception–not of any justice–but of what Plato would call the injustice of the ideologue who wants to impose his peculiar conception of reality on everybody else. Here you have a classical modern case of the dimensions of the problem of deformation.”[12] (my italics)

Notwithstanding his polemical tone, Voegelin is systematically exposing a serious defect not just in Rawls’s theory but in the entire tradition of analytical philosophy as well.  His remark that justice “presupposes the openness toward divine reality as the [operating factor in the existent of a society in history]” serves as a reminder to secular intellectuals that, try as they might, they cannot transcend the religious sources of the experiences that feed their ideas.  Voegelin is also calling attention to the abstract nature of Rawls’s account of justice, resting on a “contract theory” that had been called into question as far back as Book Two of Plato’s Republic.  Perhaps worst of all, Rawls falls back on “New-Leftist egalitarianism,” one of the most parochial ideological premises of his time, without even acknowledging the epiphenomenal nature of his assumption.  What is simply a doxa, an opinion, in favor of egalitarianism becomes an unchallengeable abstraction that all rational individuals must follow.  Whether Rawls knew it or not, he was importing a “faith” into the rational calculations that characterize his original position.

In the decades following the publication of A Theory of Justice, Rawls takes a greater interest in what Leo Strauss famously called, the “theologico-political problem,” namely the challenge of understanding religion’s role in a political order as well as its relation to philosophical freedom. Whether this new interest represents a new attitude that Rawls is taking towards the value of religion is the question that I seek to address.  I shall argue that Rawls’s greater attention to religion in Political Liberalism (1993), the sequel to his first work, indirectly vindicates Voegelin’s suspicion that English (or Anglo-American) liberalism still requires a theological foundation, even though Rawls never acknowledges this fact.

Religion amidst “Political Liberalism”

In Political Liberalism, Rawls devotes far more attention to the diversity of belief in a liberal society today in order to qualify his earlier position, as stated in A Theory of Justice, that liberalism requires a generally secular citizenry.  In particular, he is more concerned with accommodating religion.  In an essay on “public reason,” or the process by which he determines the rationality of beliefs in his liberal regime, Rawls explains the key difference between the two books:

“The first explicitly attempts to develop from the idea of the social contract, represented by Locke, Rousseau, and Kant, a theory of justice that is no longer open to objections often thought fatal to it, and that proves superior to the long dominant tradition of utilitarianism.  A Theory of Justice hopes to present the structural features of such a theory so as to make it the best approximation to our considered judgments of justice and hence to give the most appropriate moral basis for a democratic society.  Furthermore, justice as fairness is presented there as a comprehensive liberal doctrine (although the term “comprehensive justice” is not used in the book) in which all members of its well-ordered society affirms that same doctrine.  This kind of well ordered society contradicts the fact of reasonable pluralism and hence Political Liberalism regards that society as impossible.”[13]

In short, the “comprehensive” liberalism of Rawls’s first book dictates that all citizens act as secular liberals.  The “political” liberalism of the sequel allows for a great deal of public space in which citizens can freely agree to disagree about their comprehensive views of the true, the good, and the beautiful.  Why did Rawls change his mind? In his essay on public reason, he explains: “Political Liberalism considers a different question, namely: How is it possible for those affirming a comprehensive doctrine, religious or nonreligious, and in particular doctrines based on religious authority, such as the Church or the Bible, also to hold a reasonable political conception of justice that supports a constitutional democratic society?”[14]  Rawls fully admits that liberalism and religion may conflict: “The political conceptions are seen as both liberal and self-standing and not as comprehensive, whereas the religious doctrines may be comprehensive but not liberal.”  Yet this conflict need not be worrisome as long as the various doctrines held by citizens “support reasonable political conceptions—although not necessarily the most reasonable—which specify the basic rights, liberties, and opportunities of citizens in society’s basic structure.”[15]

This new interest in accommodating religion is not consistent with A Theory of Justice.  As Allan Bloom argues, Rawls in this work, unlike the early modern social contractarians, is disinterested in faith or how it fits into a political order.  He simply assumes that religion is irrelevant. “Rawls, counting on men’s having weak beliefs, simply ignores the challenge to his teaching posed by the claims of religion.”[16]  Why did Rawls change his mind on the importance of religion?  Is it because, as Carlos Fraenkel has argued, “the secularization thesis is in trouble”?[17] Fraenkel writes: “Appealing to reason is not enough in the case of citizens for whom reason holds less authority than God.”[18]  If reason is not the supreme authority for all, then the accommodation of religious belief, as long as it does not seriously conflict with liberal principles of freedom and equality, sounds reasonable.

Still, two questions arise: does Rawls’s political liberalism require a civil theology, an uneasy synthesis of both religious and secular symbols in the political realm, which Voegelin associates with traditional liberals such as Hobbes and Locke?  If that is the case, does Rawls’s secular philosophy adequately account for the role of religion in his system?  In order to address these questions adequately, I return to Voegelin’s discussion of the postwar Oxfordians.  The relevance of this essay, which precedes the publication of A Theory of Justice by almost twenty years, lies in Voegelin’s argument that the Oxfordian tradition of political philosophy since World War II has always been dangerously indifferent to the importance of religious (especially Christian) belief as a barrier to the most toxic ideologies of our age. Although the Rawls of Political Liberalism is far more attentive to religion than the Rawls of A Theory of Justice, he still suffers from two blind spots that Voegelin attributes to the Oxfordian tradition as a whole. First, he does not clearly admit the necessity of a role for religion in politics, even though he unwittingly depends on its survival. Second, his accommodation of religion insists that believers adapt their faith to liberal politics. Whether Rawls acknowledges it or not, religion must be subordinate to liberalism.  This move on Rawls’s part repeats what Voegelin describes as the attempts of past liberals (Hobbes, Locke) to create an intolerant “civil theology” (OPP, 36) which is ill-equipped to deal with the ideological challenges of our age.  In brief, Rawls fails to acknowledge the religious (Christian) preconditions essential to his philosophy of liberalism.

Voegelin, Rawls, and the Persistence of Religion

One of the central themes of Voegelin’s essay (and, indeed, his entire scholarly oeuvre) is his argument that even the most secular political movements of modernity have a theological core or root.  “Secularization,” a concept that became popular among sociologists and historians in the twentieth century, is too simplistic a term to describe the transition from the “religious” Middle Ages to the “secular” Enlightenment.  The “immanentist creed movements” that emerged out of the Reformation and the Enlightenment were not secular in any clear sense. (OPP, 25-26) The mighty efforts of Hobbes and Locke to subordinate religious authority to political rule were an exercise in “civil theology.”  Voegelin warns English liberals that a great deal of their political philosophy rests on theological assumptions about human nature (e.g., Puritanism) that would not withstand philosophical scrutiny if put to the test:

“And, as a consequence, contemporary political debate is only to a minor extent theoretical discussion, while to a larger extent it is a cautiously moving elaboration of civil theology and its adaptation, if possible, to the disquieting events of the age.  Since, however, history does not seem to tread the path of English civil theology, its adherents are in a difficult position.  Unless one is willing to give up political theologizing altogether and to take the plunge into philosophy, one has to act with great circumspection, or the dogmatic edifice will come tumbling down.  When the dogmatic symbols of the creed, such as Locke’s toleration and liberty of conscience, or John Stuart Mill’s improvement, are touched by critical examination, they will inevitably fall apart.” (OPP, 36-37)

Rawls, however, goes out of his way to deny that a “civil theology” is necessary for the liberal regime. The difference between “comprehensive liberalism” and “political liberalism” is, once again, critical here: “in a constitutional democracy the public conception of justice should be, so far as possible, presented as independent of comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines.”[19]  A comprehensive liberalism, which Rawls defends in A Theory of Justice, dictates that the citizenry abide by certain metaphysical doctrines (religious or secular) as stipulated by the state. Yet Rawls insists that this version of liberalism wrongly denies the “diversity of reasonable religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines found in democratic societies as a permanent feature of their public culture.” (PL, 136; my italics)

Because Rawls does not openly believe that any civil theology is necessary or beneficial, he also contends that it is up to citizens, not the state, to decide the truth or falsity of beliefs through the process of public reason.  Rawls also does not worry about the capacity of all human beings, whatever their faiths, to undertake this task.  He insists that his citizenry has a “capacity for a sense of justice and a capacity for a conception of the good,” both of which must be expressed in rational ways so that a society based on “social cooperation” can result. (PL, 19) Yet Rawls admits that this type of person comes from a “normative conception” of humanity, not from “natural science and social theory.” (PL, 18n)  In short, he is silent on the origin of this conception.  Nevertheless, Rawls steadfastly rejects the accusation that he is indifferent to questions of “truth” regarding the norms that he presupposes:

“We try, as far as we can, neither to assert nor to deny any particular comprehensive religious, philosophical, or moral view, or its associated theory of truth and the status of values.  Since we assume each citizen to affirm some such view, we hope to make it possible for all to accept the political conception as true or reasonable from the standpoint of their own comprehensive view, whatever it may be. Properly understood, then, a political conception of justice need be no more indifferent, say, to truth in philosophy and morals than the principle of toleration, suitably understood, need be indifferent to truth in religion.  Since we seek an agreed basis of public justification in matters of justice, and since no political agreement on those disputed questions can reasonably be expected, we turn instead to the fundamental ideas we seem to share through the public political culture.  From these ideas we try to work out a political conception of justice congruent with our considered convictions on due reflection.  Once this is done, citizens may within their comprehensive doctrines regard the political conception of justice as true, or as reasonable, whatever their view allows.” (PL, 150-151)

As Kai Nielsen puts it, Rawls “was not in the business of answering Calvin or Luther or Nietzsche or Carl Schmitt or Marx or fundamentalists of any stripe.”[20]  Although Rawls did not deny that “there may be a deep, contested truth or soundness in political liberalism,” a person “committed to political liberalism need not invoke or even grasp such a truth or soundness (if indeed there is one) to achieve agreement with other political liberals who hold very different metaphysical and epistemological views.”[21]

The radical nature of what Rawls articulates as “political liberalism” is in striking contrast to the history of the liberal tradition as a whole.  If Rawls is successful in defending a liberalism that requires no underlying metaphysical doctrines to legitimize it, then he has pulled off a feat that no other liberal philosopher has ever accomplished.[22]  In accord with his discussion of the civil theology that is at the root of early modern liberalism, Voegelin elsewhere contends that every regime in history has required “minimum dogmas” to provide a semblance of legitimacy to the regime.  These doctrines need not be strictly true or evident in the philosophical sense (they are, after all, dogmas) but they require obedience. Moreover, because they are dogmas (or theologies), they may not easily withstand philosophical scrutiny.  The first defenders of early modern liberalism did not believe that these dogmas would unduly suppress freedom. Voegelin notes in the case of Spinoza that the latter “conceived the idea of an aristocratic government that would institute a state religion on the basis of a minimum dogma but leave to everybody the freedom of adding as much as he wanted to the minimum as long as he did not try to enforce his additions on others.”[23]

Like Rawls, Spinoza affirms, in his Theologico-Political Treatise (1670), the freedom of citizenry to decide on the truth of these questions, but with the un-Rawlsian proviso that the state ought to play some role in laying out comprehensive doctrines, or what Spinoza calls the “doctrines of the universal faith”: these include belief in God, His forgiveness, and the command to love thy neighbor.[24]  Whether Spinoza himself believed in these dogmas is a much contested question, not least because of Leo Strauss’s influential interpretation of Spinoza as a Machiavellian who measures the value of religion solely in terms of its political utility.[25] Voegelin appears to follow the Straussian hermeneutic of suspicion when he writes:

“The position of Spinoza differs, moreover, from that of his predecessors insofar as he himself did not believe in the minimum dogma but advanced it as a bit of exoteric political advice for the satisfaction of the multitude.  The ideas of Spinoza are, therefore, the first high point in the new development, indicated previously, towards psychological management of the masses by playing on their convictions in order to keep them satisfied, while the player himself does not necessarily share them.”[26]

Although Voegelin exudes a critical tone here with regard to Spinoza’s honesty, he elsewhere associates Spinoza with a long line of philosophical double-truth that goes as far back as Plato.  “Spinoza the mystic needed the dogma for himself no more than Plato, but created it deliberately, as did Plato, for the mass of men whose spiritual strength is weak and who can absorb the spirit only in the form of dogmatic symbols.”[27]  In Rawlsian terms, however, Spinoza’s liberalism is, unfortunately,  “comprehensive.”

Where does Rawls stand on the famous Platonic teaching of the “noble fiction” in politics? At first glance, he appears to be hostile to such a project.  As early as A Theory of Justice, he opposes the use of this strategy in politics.  Rawls sternly remarks:  “There is no necessity to invoke theological or metaphysical doctrines to support its principles, nor to imagine another world that compensates for and corrects the inequalities which the two principles permit in this one.  Conceptions of injustice must be justified by the conditions of our life as we know it or not at all.”  (TJ, 398)  In a footnote on the same page, he adds that “such devices as Plato’s Noble Lie in the Republic, bk. III, 414-415, are ruled out, as well as the advocacy of religion (when not believed) to buttress a social system that could not otherwise survive, as by the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.”[28]  (TJ, 398n)  In Political Liberalism, he also resists the temptation to make use of religious or mythical ideas in the public square as well as the assumption that many human beings may require an authority independent of human reason. In the introduction, Rawls recounts the old debates during the Enlightenment over the proper use of religion in the public square:

“Is the knowledge or awareness of how we are to act directly accessible only to some, or to a few (the clergy, say), or is it accessible to every person who is normally reasonable and conscientious?”

“Again, is the moral order required of us derived from an external source, say from an order of value in God’s intellect, or does it arise in some way from human nature itself (either from reason or feeling or from a union of both), together with the requirements of living together in society?”

“Finally, must we be persuaded or compelled to bring ourselves in line with the requirements of our duties and obligations by some external motivation, say, by divine sanctions or by those of the state; or are we so constituted that we have in our nature sufficient motives to lead us to act as we ought without the need of external threats and inducements?” (PL, xxvi-xxvii)

Although Rawls concludes that his political liberalism “does not take a general position on the three questions above,” he further remarks that “political liberalism does affirm the second alternative in each case with respect to a political conception of justice for a constitutional democratic regime.” (PL, xxvii)   We no longer need the theological-metaphysical doctrines of the past that preoccupied Hume and Kant.  Rawls concludes the introduction with the simple assumption that a “reasonably just political society is possible.” (PL, lx)  With a nod to Kant, he later calls this assumption a “reasonable faith.” (PL, 172)  Presumably, this faith is not a comprehensive doctrine or civil theology, at least according to Rawls.

One large question that arises out of Rawls’s beliefs in the human rationality that makes good government possible is whether this assumption counts as a minimum dogma or comprehensive doctrine all its own.  Despite Rawls’s opposition to the usage of religion in politics (as opposed to the accommodation of belief), does he presuppose a civil theology?  There is considerable debate over this possibility.  Some have argued that the liberal Protestantism of Rawls’s youth persisted as an influence upon his later philosophy.[29]  Others have warned against reading too much religious (that is, Christian), content into his mature thought.[30]  I am inclined to believe that Rawls went out of his way to avoid any hint of a reliance on civil theology (or religion as a whole), even though his political philosophy ultimately requires it.[31]  Admittedly, this interpretation is not so easy to demonstrate, given the fact that Rawls’s official views on religion are traditionally analytical (and thus dismissive).

Although he wrote a thesis on “the meaning of sin and faith” as an undergraduate at Princeton in 1942 (which was posthumously published in 2009[32]), Rawls, in the last years of his life, warned against the temptation of reading any religious content (including the influence of liberal Protestantism on his thought as a young man) into his mature philosophy. His short essay “On My Religion,” which he wrote in 1997, is the only essay in his oeuvre in which he devotes considerable attention to religion in a personal vein.  The essay begins with the assertion: “My religion is of interest only to me, as its various phases and how they followed one another are not unusual or especially instructive.”[33]  In the next two pages, as he recounts a series of events that he witnessed as a soldier fighting the Japanese during World War II, Rawls poignantly describes how he gradually lost his Christian faith amidst the horrors of war. Then he turns to the history of various attempts by theologians to defend the most indefensible evils in the name of God’s providence. Clearly, like most analytical philosophers, Rawls doubts that these exercises in theodicy have been well spent, not least because the Church itself was guilty of oppression and persecution in its long history before the dawn of the Enlightenment.  “The history of the Church includes a story of its long historical ties to the state and its use of political power to establish its hegemony and to oppress other religions.”[34]  Traditional doctrines such as predestination and papal infallibility do not withstand Rawls’s philosophical scrutiny any better than the actual behavior of the Church through the Middle Ages and Reformation.[35]

The upshot of this conventional secular portrayal of Christianity is, at least for Rawls, the stubborn fact that faith and reason will always be antagonists. Continuing with his autobiographical tone, Rawls observes: “To the extent that Christianity is taken seriously, I came to think it could have deleterious effects on one’s character.  Christianity is a solitary religion: each is saved or damned individually, and we naturally focus on our own salvation to the point where nothing else matters.”[36]  In short, Christianity has no politically utility as long as its adherents focus on their place in heaven instead of relieving human suffering in this vale of tears.  This last observation should not suggest that Rawls supports the exclusion of religions from his version of liberal democracy. After a brief and sympathetic discussion of Jean Bodin’s pluralism (which he defended in The Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime), Rawls reaffirms his defense of political liberalism by remarking that “the religions of the seven are each reasonable” and in accord with public reason. “Part of the significance of this is that a person’s religion is often no better or worse than they are as persons, and the idea of the reasonable, or some analogous idea, must always be reasonable.”[37]  The question that Rawls leaves unanswered here is: reasonable according to whose criterion?

In this autobiographical essay, Rawls never explains what is “reasonable” about religion. Instead, at the end of “On My Religion,” Rawls indirectly dismisses this question by restating the conventional analytical view that religion at best does not help rational inquiry, and at worst hinders it altogether:

“Now if we deny the existence of God, we do deny the existence of a reason with divine powers, but do we deny the soundness of reason’s content?  There is a great divide on this point.  For my part, I don’t see how it is possible that the content and validity of reason should be affected by whether God exists or not, thinking of God as a being with will.  We cannot deny the validity of those inferences or the truth of the facts recognized as true.  If we do this, we undercut our reasoning about anything and might as well babble at random.”[38]

Why, then, does Rawls argue that political liberalism should accommodate religious perspectives that “babble at random?”  In the last two paragraphs of this essay, Rawls restates his view, which he elaborates upon in Political Liberalism, that religion is indeed reasonable as long as “divine practical reason” will connect “with social facts about how human beings are related in society and to one another.”[39]  There must be broad agreement, or a “stable overlapping consensus” about what these facts are. (See PL, 152)  “Given these facts as they undeniably are in our social world, the basic judgements of reasonableness must be the same, whether made by God’s reason or by ours.  This invariant content of reasonableness—without which our thought collapses—doesn’t allow otherwise, however pious it might seem to attribute everything to the divine will.”[40]  Ultimately, it matters what religious folks do, not what they believe, “for what is punishable in religion is not beliefs, but deeds.”[41]  Perhaps needless to say, there is no in-between” existence (metaxy) in which humanity seeks understanding of the divine.  Rather, there is the sheer necessity of subordinating religion to the liberal social contract, a practice that goes as far back as Hobbes, Spinoza, and Locke.

It sounds as if Rawls is simply restating the idea of “reflective equilibrium” that he outlined in A Theory of Justice.  In this state of equilibrium, which results from a rigorous “going back and forth” in dialogue, citizens in Rawls’s just society will eventually “know to what principles our judgments conform and the premises of their derivation,” even if “further examination” is necessary.  (TJ, 18)  Despite his efforts to distinguish between his two big works, Rawls also gives the impression that he is anticipating his view, as expressed in Political Liberalism, that a true liberal regime should not take any official stance on the truth-value of a religious perspective. As long as metaphysical views (whether religious or secular) do not lead to violent conflict or “civil strife” (PL, 152), all will be well.  An “overlapping consensus” is possible as long as religious and secular folks agree on the facts, as stated earlier.  A “reasonable pluralism” (PL 153) will function as long as there is no fundamental disagreement. These passages are about as close as Rawls gets in Political Liberalism to acknowledging a Voegelinian tension or gulf between principles and politics.  At first glance, then, Rawls would be just the opposite of a “doxic thinker” who seeks to settle philosophical questions once and for all in the public square.[42]  Still, the question remains: does Rawls need a “reasonable” religion?

Is Religion Necessary in Politics?

None of the above discussion denies that Rawls sees religious ideas as useful.  The proviso is that religious ideas must conform with liberal credos.  In his essay on “public reason,” he acknowledges that if a Christian endorsed a constitutional democratic regime in accord with his belief that God sets limits to human liberty, that would be acceptable.[43]  For this reason, Rawls approvingly refers to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. as appropriate examples of how religious speech can be compatible with public reason. (PL, 249-250, 254)  A “concern for salvation” need not “require anything incompatible with that liberty.” (PL, 153)  Unsurprisingly, then, it sounds as if Rawls desires a liberal version of religion.[44]

My interest, however, is in detecting the presence, in Rawls’s thought, of a “civil theology” of the sort that Voegelin describes.  This possibility is worth exploring in light of the fact that Rawls in Political Liberalism is resigned to the inevitability that religion will never disappear.  In the introduction, Rawls writes that “the fact of religious division remains.” (PL, xxiv) This statement is consistent with his oft-expressed view that pluralism is a permanent feature of life in a liberal democratic state. (PL, 36; see also 64n, 129, 150) To some critics, it is far from obvious that Rawls is right about the facts here. For example, the Marxist historian Perry Anderson chides Rawls for ignoring the rise of secular states in the West: “Given the relentless advance of secularization in all European societies, the fate of supernatural beliefs today tells, of course, against rather than for Rawls’s assumption.  Perhaps American anachronism here has misled him.”[45] (Given the steady rise of political Islam in the United Kingdom and Europe since the end of the Cold War, perhaps Marxian anachronism here has misled Anderson.[46])

Recalling Voegelin’s argument that the Oxfordian philosophers were indifferent to the danger that many of their cherished assumptions could not withstand philosophical scrutiny and depend on a civil theology more than they know or admit, is Rawls smuggling into his liberalism a theology that he would otherwise consider unnecessary at best and false at worst?  Does his exoteric political liberalism require an esoteric comprehensive liberalism?  I ask these questions because I suspect that Rawls depends on a particular religion—Christianity—more than he acknowledges, particularly in his treatment of “equality.”[47]

Voegelin, Rawls and the Origins of Equality

In his discussion of the Platonic hierarchy of souls, which sharply distinguishes between those who are close to the divine and those that are far away from it, Voegelin notes that the “experience of creaturely equality before a transcendent God” which fits within a “Christian orbit” is absent “in the Platonic experience.”[48]  In other words, it is not natural to believe that all human beings are equal before the divine, given the fact that there is substantial disagreement over the meaning of the “divine.”  Voegelin is not claiming that Christianity has a monopoly on the belief in equality before God, a credo that appears in Stoicism as well.  What is instructive about his approach is that an historical study of equality reminds us that equality is not an abstraction that all human beings embrace just because they happen to reason it out in dialogue with others.  In his essay on the Oxfordians, Voegelin laments the ignorance of moderns who fail to understand how cherished secular principles have historically specific origins:

A political theory that takes it uncritically for granted that the secular national state is the one and true object of inquiry will run into difficulties flowing from this further source.  The theorist will have to interpret phenomena  of the adumbrated type as movements on the level of secular power politics, which they are not.  He will be blind to the fact that his own secular state is not quite so secular as he believes it is, but that civil rights and democratic recognition of equality derive from an idea of man that has grown in the shelter of Stoic cosmology and Christian faith, and hence does not make sense to men who do not live in this cultural tradition. (OPP, 26)

If I have interpreted Rawls accurately, it is hard to imagine him worrying about the particular religious or philosophical origins of equality.  It is even harder to imagine him endorsing a “comprehensive” liberalism that is based on the minimum dogma or civil theology that explicitly recognizes these origins.  Rawls instead expects peoples of all faiths (and those without faith) to embrace equality under conditions of “political liberalism” for the sake of peace in his just society.  At the very least, they should not let their religious beliefs seriously conflict with a belief in human equality.  To act otherwise is to act in an unreasonable manner.

As J. Judd Owen has astutely argued, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that Rawls simply conflates what is “reasonable” with what is “liberal.”[49]  As many of his critics from the Right and the Left have suspected, Rawls dresses up historically specific ideas as abstract truths (or at least judgments) that everyone should accept, however uneasily.  Yet Rawls never suggests that these ideas depend upon any religious traditions from which they originate.  Nor does he worry about the possible tension between his idea of reason or the “reasonable” and his own ethical preferences.  Perhaps, as we have seen, he simply has faith that people will reason together in order to avoid serious disagreements.  Yet this faith requires no religious basis.  This blind spot on Rawls’s part appears in both of his major works on liberalism.

In A Theory of Justice Rawls insists that the “original position” requires a sense of universal love of humanity that is essential to his social contract:

“It may seem strange at first that we should have the desire to act from a conception of right and justice.  How is it possible that moral principles can engage our affections?  In justice as fairness there are several answers to this question. First of all, as we have seen, moral principles are bound to have a certain content.  Since they are chosen by rational persons to adjudicate competing claims, they define agreed ways of advancing human interests . . . But secondly, it is also the case that the sense of justice is continuous with the love of mankind.  I noted earlier that benevolence is at a loss when the many objects of its love oppose one another.  The principles of justice are needed to guide it.  The difference between the sense of justice and the love of mankind is that the latter is supererogatory, going beyond the moral requirements and not invoking the exemptions which the principles of natural duty and obligation allow.  Yet clearly the objects of these two sentiments are closely related, being defined in large part by the same conception of justice.  If one of them seems natural and intelligible, so is the other.”  (TJ, 416-417)

Even Rawls’s most sympathetic readers have spotted some metaphysical baggage here.   Nielsen pointedly asks: “why is it, or is it, that a man is in any way faulted in his rationality if he does not love mankind?”[50]  Although Voegelin and Nielsen share few philosophical assumptions, they both agree that certain cherished moral notions may not withstand close philosophical scrutiny.  Yet Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, like his Oxfordian predecessors, evinces no worry about the survival or staying power of the sentiments that feed these notions.  They are “natural and intelligible,” after all.

Does Political Liberalism require such a love, notwithstanding some exemptions? I believe that it is implicitly required even within his system, which strives to avoid comprehensive liberalism.  Rawls expects his citizens to be tolerant or accepting of each other, to disagree without being disagreeable.  These sentiments sound uncannily like a version of universal love, although Rawls makes no connection between these attitudes.  He simply expects that citizens will generally accept liberal norms or at least not go out of their way to undermine them.  Rawls, whether he admits or not, is depending on a religious precondition that he considers philosophically obsolete (even though, oddly enough, religion is also a “permanent” feature of a pluralistic society).

The last thing that Rawls would consider is privileging one religion over another since, as we have seen, he believes that all religious communities can act reasonably (or in accordance with liberalism).  Rawls’s insistence that religious beliefs be translated into the language of public reason, which is accessible to all, may even be reminiscent of St. Paul’s attempts to translate Christian symbols into the language of the pagan Greeks whom he encountered on his travels.[51]  Spinoza, Rawls’s great liberal predecessor, made similar arguments about the need for philosophers to accommodate the “vulgar” by communicating ethical ideas in a manner that their limited understanding could grasp (ad captum vulgi loqui).  Rawls is also clear on the importance of accommodating only those religious beliefs that are “not a threat to democratic institutions.”[52]

In order to make this reality possible, Rawls has to fall back on a concept of universal love to which he referred in A Theory of Justice.  Put differently, an attitude of easy tolerance of others likely requires the belief (comprehensive doctrine?) that all human beings have value.  Do all religions teach this?  Does secular rationalism even teach this?  These questions, as far as I know, do not interest Rawls.  Yet this is another example of Rawls’s profound failure to think through the historical and religious origins of the liberal morality that he assumes to be “reasonable.”  As George Grant once wrote, the belief that all human beings have value (or are equal, in some sense) is hard to sustain through rational argumentation. The only alternative foundation for this belief is religious.  “This religious basis for equality seems to me the only adequate one, because I cannot see why one should embark on the immensely difficult social practice of treating each person as important unless there is something intrinsically valuable about personality.”[53]  Yet, as analytical philosophers constantly remind us, this assumption of intrinsic value is just a preference that is far less rational than the assumption that people simply have instrumental value.[54]

Political Liberalism is ultimately no more successful than A Theory of Justice in demonstrating that rationality requires love of humanity or our intrinsic value as persons.  Rawls simply asserts that “the knowledge and ways of reasoning that ground our affirming the principles of justice and their application to constitutional essentials and basic justice are to rest on the plain truths now widely accepted, or available, to citizens generally.” (PL, 225).  Yet he never demonstrates that any of this counts as a “plain truth” to all human beings.  Rawls is oblivious to the problem of Hume’s “sensible knave,” a rational person who pays lip service to moral conventions even as he secretly flouts them if they do not serve his interests.[55]  Although this person is reprehensible, Rawls would have difficulty explaining why he is irrational.  If cherished norms lack a rational or empirical basis, Rawls has no choice but to fall back by necessity on a religious tradition.  For this reason, even sympathetic readers of Rawls, such as the analytical Marxist G. A. Cohen, came to the conclusion that a truly egalitarian society in which people treat each other as equals would require a “revolution in feeling or motivation” that Rawlsian prescriptions and rules would not make possible. Instead, only Christianity would effect this “revolution in the human soul.”[56] In Voegelinian terms, “Christian substances” must precede secular justice in modernity.

Voegelin, Rawls, and America in 2018

If Rawls’s A Theory of Justice did not fit easily with the strife-torn America of its time, how well does Rawls’s Political Liberalism fit within the Trump era?  American Christianity, at least measured in terms of mainstream church attendance and belief, is in decline.[57]  Is the rising secularization of America, then, leading to a new birth of moderation?  As we have seen, Voegelin would warn against this hasty and uninformed conclusion.  There is a great deal of angry talk about equality across the entire political spectrum.  We live in an age that sharply contrasts with what Voegelin admired most about England’s political culture, one that “has engendered loyalties that motivate justification rather than dissolving criticism.” (OPP, 37)  The Rawlsian insistence on “reasonable” discourse seems to be missing in action amidst the political polarization that is the new normal in America.  The contemporary version of what Voegelin calls “New-Leftist egalitarianism” conflates “equality” with special entitlements for variously aggrieved groups on the margins.

To say the least, the radical Left today has no interest in preserving a Christian heritage, even if it sometimes uses theological language for propagandistic purposes.  It has even less interest in practicing the Rawlsian version of “accommodating” traditionalists who disagree with current left-liberal credos.  What Voegelin calls the “Puritans of the Left” are now openly hostile to Christianity even as they impose their own secularized idea of “the elect” on the citizenry. (OPP, 40)  In today’s political parlance, this attitude rationalizes the denial of free speech to all those critics (usually on the political Right) who question the new “equality.”[58]

It is a safe bet that this political climate is not what Rawls would have desired or anticipated.  Yet it is hard to see how his insistence on people acting “reasonably” protects us from these toxic ideologies with any more success than the ideas of the post-World War II Oxfordians protected Britain from similar outrages.  Abstractions that are divorced from historical experience provide a weak inoculation against ideology.  At the end of his essay on these authors, Voegelin reminds readers of the inconvenient truth that the real meaning of equality requires a sobering recognition that neither conscience nor appeals to moral principle can save us from evil:

“All men are equal, to be sure, or they would not be individuals of one species; but sometimes it is forgotten that the point in which they most certainly are equal is their capacity for evil.  Enough of that evil is rampant; and this is no time to pat the viciously ignorant on the back for being “sincere,” or abiding by their conscience.” (OPP, 46)

The contemporary version of the “New Left” has no sympathy with this toughminded understanding of equality, one that is based on the biblical idea of fallenness.  The humility that is at the heart of this truth demands far more than a good “conscience,” which can rationalize extremism and violence.  Voegelin’s preference for a “polis” that still “offers the opportunity for full actualization of human nature” does not fit any democracy in our age. (OPP, 45)  However, the philosopher who recognizes the fundamental tension between ideals and reality has always had the profound duty to resist the easy temptation to conform with unstable political realities, even if “that brings him into conflict with an environment infested by dubious ideologies and political theologies.” (OPP, 46)  The alternative is to pretend that mere abstractions can counter the political radicalism of our post-Christian era.

 

Notes

[1] This article was first published in Philosophical Quarterly 3, no. 1 (1953). It is reprinted in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, volume 11: Published Essays 1953-1965, edited by Ellis Sandoz (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000). In my discussion, I cite this essay as OPP, with the page numbers from this volume. I am grateful to David Whitney for making helpful editorial suggestions.

[2] Andrew Roberts, Eminent Churchillians (London: Phoenix, 1995): “Conservatism was thus reduced to trying to administer the enlarged state more efficiently.” (254)

[3] George Grant, English-Speaking Justice (Anansi: Toronto, 1985), 52.

[4] J. D. Mabbott, The State and the Citizen: An Introduction to Political Philosophy (London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1947).

[5] See also Bjorn Thomassen, “Reason and Religion in Rawls: Voegelin’s Challenge,” Philosophia 40 (2012), 237-252.  Although Thomassen provides a very fine Voegelinian critique of Rawls, he does not discuss Voegelin’s essay on the Oxfordians.

[6] Paul Weithman, “John Rawls and the Task of Political Philosophy,” Review of Politics 71 (2009), 113. Berlin at times had doubts that political philosophy was still a vital discipline. See his “Does Political Theory Still Exist?” in The Proper Study of Mankind: An Anthology of Essays, edited by Henry Hardy and Roger Hausheer (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000), 59-90. This essay first appeared in 1962.

[7] David Boucher, “Editor’s Introduction,” in R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan, or Man, Society, Civilization, and Barbarism, revised edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), xv.

[8] Kai Nielsen, “On Finding One’s Feet in Philosophy: From Wittgenstein to Marx,” in Pessimism of the Intellect, Optimism of the Will: The Political Philosophy of Kai Nielsen, edited by David Rondel and Alex Sager (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2012), 7.

[9] See Grant, English-Speaking Justice, 39-42. See also Allan Bloom, “Justice: John Rawls versus the Tradition of Political Philosophy,” in Giants and Dwarfs: Essays 1960-1990 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990), 315-316.

[10] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, revised edition (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999 [1971]), 11. I henceforth cite this work as TJ in the text.

[11] Grant contends that the abstract content of this book “is even more surprising when one remembers that the Vietnam War was justified in terms of liberal ideology, was largely planned by men from the liberal universities, the most influential of whom were from Rawls’s own university.” (English-Speaking Justice, 42)

[12] Eric Voegelin, “Deformations of Faith.” The text of this talk can be accessed here: https://voegelinview.com/deformations-of-faith-pt-1/

[13] John Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” in Political Liberalism, expanded edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 489. This essay originally appeared in The University of Chicago Law Review 64, no. 3 (Summer, 1997), 765-807. The page numbers that I cite refer to the text published in Political Liberalism.

[14] Rawls, “Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” 490.

[15] Rawls, “Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” 490.

[16] Bloom, “John Rawls,” 327.

[17] Carlos Fraenkel, Philosophical Religions from Plato to Spinoza: Reason, Religion, and Autonomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), xiv.

[18] Fraenkel, Philosophical Religions, 298.

[19] John Rawls, Political Liberalism, expanded edition (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005 [1993]), 144.  I henceforth cite this work as PL.

[20] Nielsen, “On There Being Wide Reflective Equilibria:  Why It Is Important to Put It in the Plural,” in Pessimism of the Intellect, 47.

[21]  Nielsen, “On There Being Wide Reflective Equilibria,” 47.

[22] See Ismail Kurun, The Theological Origins of Liberalism (Lanham, MD:  Lexington Books, 2016).

[23] Eric Voegelin, “Spinoza,” in  The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 25: History of Political Ideas, vol. 7 : The New Order and Last Orientation, edited by Jürgen Gebhardt and Thomas A. Holloweck (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 1999), 134.

[24] Benedict Spinoza, Theological-Political Treatise, in The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. 2, edited and translated by Edwin Curley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 268-269.

[25] Leo Strauss, “How to Study Spinoza’s Theologico-Political Treatise,” in Persecution and the Art of Writing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 142-201.  For a thoughtful critique of Strauss’s hermeneutic, see Nancy Levene, “Ethics and Interpretation, or How to Study Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Without Strauss,” Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy 10 (2000), 57-110.

[26] Voegelin, “Spinoza,” 134-135.

[27] Eric Voegelin, Order and History, vol. 3: Plato and Aristotle, in The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, vol. 16, edited by Dante Germino (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2000), 317.

[28] Defenders of Rawls argue that his concern with the truth and respect for human reason in both of his big works on justice and liberalism discourage him from embracing the Noble Lie.  See Daniel Dombrowski, “Plato’s ‘Noble Lie,’” History of Political Thought 18, no. 4 (Winter 1997), 577-578.

[29] See Thomassen, “Reason and Religion in Rawls,” 240.  Comparing Rawls to other twentieth-century philosophers, Weithman writes in “John Rawls and the Task of Political Philosophy”: “With the qualified exception of Dewey, he (Rawls) is the only one whose thought emerged from a formation in liberal Protestantism.” (113)

[30] Robert Merrihew Adams, “The Theological Ethics of the Young Rawls and Its Background,” in John Rawls, A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, edited by Thomas Nagel (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2009), 24-101.

[31] For a similar critique, see Brayton Polka, “History Between Biblical Religion and Modernity: Reflections on Rawls’ Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy,” European Legacy 7, no. 4 (2002), 445-451.

[32] John Rawls, A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, edited by Thomas Nagel (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 2009).

[33] John Rawls, “On My Religion,” in A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, 261.

[34] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 264.

[35] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 264-265.

[36] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 265.

[37] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 267.

[38] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 268.

[39] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 268.

[40] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 268.

[41] Rawls, “On My Religion,” 269.

[42] Thomassen, “Reason and Religion in Rawls,” 245.

[43] Rawls, “The Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” 460.

[44] J. Judd Owen, Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism: The Foundational Crisis of the Separation of Church and State (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 97-128.

[45] Perry Anderson, Spectrum (London: Verso, 2005), 106.

[46] Despite my caviling here, Anderson’s overall critique of Rawls (pp. 103-112) is very insightful.

[47] For a comprehensive discussion of the tensions between Rawls’s account of justice and Christian morality, as well as his subtle dependence on the latter, see Harlan R. Beckley, “A Christian Affirmation of Rawls’s Idea of Justice as Fairness—Part I,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 13, no. 2 (1985), 210-242, and “A Christian Affirmation of Rawls’s Idea of Justice as Fairness—Part II,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 14, no. 2 (1986), 229-246. See also David Walsh, “The Post-Liberal Spirituality of John Rawls,” Church Life Journal, June 22, 2018. It can be accessed here: http://churchlife.nd.edu/2018/06/22/the-post-liberal-spirituality-of-john-rawls/

[48] Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle, 195.

[49] Owen, Religion and the Demise of Liberal Rationalism, 114. The proper limit of religious freedom in a liberal society is still a live issue in the literature on Rawls. See Paul Billingham, “Can my religion influence my conception of justice? Political liberalism and the role of comprehensive doctrines,” Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 20, no. 4 (2017), 403-424.

[50] Kai Nielsen, “Rationality and the Moral Sentiments:  Some Animadversions on a Theme in A Theory of Justice,” in Why Be Moral? (Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989), 220.

[51] See Johannes A. Van Der Ven, “The Religious Hermeneutics of Public Reasoning: From Paul to Rawls,” in Rawls and Religion, edited by Tom Bailey and Valentina Gentile (New York: Columbia University Press, 2015), 170-192.

[52] Rawls, “Idea of Public Reason Revisited,” 489.

[53] George Grant, “An Ethic of Community,” in The George Grant Reader, edited by William Christian and Sheila Grant (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998), 69-70.

[54] Weithman, in “John Rawls and the Task of Political Philosophy,” provides an informative discussion of the degree to which Rawls avoided these questions that arise from his own philosophical tradition (120-121).

[55] Hume, Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, section 9, part 2.

[56] G. A. Cohen, If You’re an Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2.

[57] George Hawley, Demography, Culture, and the Decline of America’s Christian Denominations (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017).

[58] See Paul Edward Gottfried, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Guilt: Toward a Secular Theocracy (Columbia, MO: University of Missouri Press, 2002), 39-70, and 131-149.

 

Please see “John Rawls ‘On Religion.'”

Grant N. Havers

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Grant Havers is Chair of the Department of Philosophy at Trinity Western University in Canada. He is the author of Lincoln and the Politics of Christian Love (Missouri, 2009) and Leo Strauss and Anglo-American Democracy: A Conservative Critique (Northern Illinois, 2013).