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Fr. 801

May 22, 2018

Rawls is quick to preach the importance of the fair value of the political liberties and to decry the “curse of money”. Rawls even maligns the fact that:

Historically one of the main defects of constitutional government has been the failure to insure the fair value of political liberty. The necessary corrective steps have not been taken, indeed, they never seem to have been seriously entertained. Disparities in the distribution of property and wealth that far exceed what is compatible with political equality have generally been tolerated by the legal system. Public resources have not been devoted to maintaining the institutions required for the fair value of political liberty. (TJ 198-199)

Given this habitual failure, it would seem warranted to seek any and all remedies possible. Indeed, one ready solution might appear in forms of deliberative democracy delegating decision- or deliberation-making power to citizens in randomly selected minipublics in addition to or even in place of public officials. On more radical versions, randomly selected citizens might entirely replace, either in a sortition assembly or a collection of single-issue minipublics, traditional legislative decisionmaking procedures. Considering that Rawls is a self-described deliberative democrat, what, if anything, is to stop the author from including such deliberative bodies within the institutional specifications of the four-stage sequence of the original position, for example, at the constitutional stage?

As the author does not expressly address the question of sortition-style bodies, it may be difficult to give a direct answer thereto. That said, his views on his principle of (equal) participation and whether political participation can be compelled may hold an answer:

Finally, to avoid misunderstanding, it should be kept in mind that the principle of participation applies to institutions. It does not define an ideal of citizenship; nor does it lay down a duty requiring all to take an active part in political affairs. (TJ 200, cf. PL 330-31)

Because political liberalism does not stipulate political participation as a human good nor define in advance what citizenship must like look, it cannot compel citizens to participate actively in political affairs on the model of sortition-style bodies. That said, this response seems unsatisfactory on two counts. First, sortition-style bodies are set up such that participation is always voluntary: following random selection, potential participants are then screened and given several opportunities to withdraw from the body. (Whether this poses a self-selection problem is another issue.) Second, if political liberalism, be it as justice as fairness or another reasonable liberal political conception, is as committed as it is to the fair value of the political liberties, perhaps it should, in contrast with other regimes which have never seriously considered how to secure such, advocate drastic (if not compulsory) steps to guarantee that value.

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