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  • Responses to Critics
  • Daniel A. Dombrowski (bio)

It is my good fortune to have three critics to respond to who are both insightful readers of two of my books and productive dialectical partners in the (Peircian) asymptotic approach to truth.

I. Wagoner and Radical Democracy

I would like to initiate my response to Zandra Wagoner by thanking her for her clear and insightful comments and for the opportunity to clarify the relationship between the political liberalism that I defend and Wagoner’s own radical democracy. My comments will be divided into two main sections, dealing respectively with: (1) the different emphases in political philosophy that she notices in her own version of radical democracy and my political liberalism; and (2) the complicated issue of religious participation in politics.

1. Different Emphases

(a) Although Wagoner seems at home with a broadly liberal political framework, she is concerned that political liberalism is a bit too tame. Given some uses of the term “liberalism,” I understand her concern. But I claim that the sort of political philosophy that emerges not only from Rawls’s later writings, but also from the decision-making procedure found in the original position, is a type of radical democracy.

Here I would emphasize the fact that political liberalism is opposed to the system of unrestricted utilitarianism that provides the theoretical basis for the capitalist society that we live in at present. On this view, as long as gross domestic product is increasing, and as long as average utility is high when the amount of overall wealth is divided by the number of citizens, the intellectual heirs of Adam Smith are generally happy. One of the major problems with this approach is that no rational person would agree to it when given the choice of other alternatives behind the veil of ignorance. In short, unrestricted or average utility is too risky and stretches to the breaking point the strains of commitment when it is considered in the original position that one might be incarnated as someone whose formal or material rights might be overridden for the sake of the aggregative reasons that are integral to utilitarianism itself.

Or again, political liberalism is also opposed to the only slightly more palatable option provided by a scheme of restricted utility. This view, popularly known as welfare capitalism, is in partial contrast to the laissez faire capitalism [End Page 225] found in a system of unrestricted utility. The problem here is that the restrictions in a system of restricted utility are quite minimal. Once citizens have been rescued from the horrors of absolute poverty in welfare capitalism, the aggregative logic of utilitarianism operates in a largely unrestricted fashion. Once again, when reasonable people who desire to abide by fair terms of agreement enter the original position, and when they deliberate there, they simply would not choose a scheme of utility, not even a restricted one. It strikes me as a devastating criticism that, although in point of fact many people defend laissez faire or welfare capitalism, no reasonable person thinking rationally (i.e., in a fair decision-making procedure) would make these claims.

As Norman Daniels makes the point, political liberalism would lead to the most egalitarian society in the world today, even when the social welfare states are considered.1 One of the reasons why this remarkable point is not more widely known may be due to the famous criticism of Rawls by the libertarian Robert Nozick. Because Nozick defends the distribution of goods found in laissez faire capitalism, and because his view is widely seen in opposition to Rawls’s view, it has been widely assumed that political liberalism involves redistributive or welfare capitalism. This is not the case. The problem with the word “redistributive” here is that it grants too much to the initial distribution. It works on the assumption that unrestricted utility has some sort of priority in a just society, in contrast to the lexically ordered priorities that would be chosen in a fair decision-making procedure: the equality principle, the opportunity principle, and the difference principle, respectively.

It is to be hoped that just as the great political philosophers of the past have had their greatest...


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