Liberalism and the Conflict of Restraint
Haverford College. Department of Philosophy
Place of Publication
Table of Contents
John Rawls' A Theory of Justice is an extremely important work of contemporary liberalism that sets up the theoretical framework for a defense of liberal social contract deontology. Michael Sandel, a communitarian, tries to criticize Rawls on the grounds that his liberal political theory will produce alienated and dislocated individuals without clear or thickly-constituted identities. Rawls replies to the communitarian critique by differentiating between the institutional (public) and non-institutional (moral) identities, but fails to address the ethical/metaphysical considerations that are needed to fully account for the communitarian critique. Rawls tries to place ‘communitarian values' within the non-institutional sphere, but since the institutional and non-institutional collapse into the same person who is at once citizen and moral individual, he creates what I call the ‘conflict of restraint.' I will explore how existentialism and Simone de Beauvoir's ethics of freedom help to advance the liberal argument against Sandel's criticisms while also affirming the criticism or Rawls' presumed impartiality. Beauvoir's perspective is analogous to A Theory of Justice in some ways. Beauvoir and Rawls share a similar conception of self and a similar dualism between universal and particular. If seen as a Rawlsian moral identity, Beauvoir's existentialist ethics helps to solve the conflict of restraint by bringing into line otherwise conflicting interests. The existentialist perspective at once shows the potential to bring forward a new way of thinking about justice and addresses the communitarian critique by providing an ethical/metaphysical paradigm to ground liberal claims of goodness.