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Fr. 957

December 4, 2019

Rawls’s political liberalism and Stout’s pragmatist expressivism likewise diverge not just over whether to regulate different spheres of discourse but also which spheres and in what way. In contrast with the exclusive or inclusive views of public reason, Rawls’s mature “wide view” motivates a duty of civility only for a small (albeit significant) class of discursive instances. No longer is the person forbidden from introducing nonpublic reason in public political culture deliberation over the basic structure. Nor are everyday interactions in the background culture bound by the duty of civility[1]. This duty obtains in two sets of circumstances to varying degrees: when the person acts as a government official and when the person acts on the basic structure in her capacity as citizen. When the person occupies the position of government official, i.e. legislators acting and speaking within the legislature, executive officials making and declaring public decisions, judges charged with judicial review, constitutional essentials and procedures structure the position of government official, for which public reason is then both sufficient and necessary. When the person acts on the basic structure in her capacity as citizen, she may not strictly respect public reason constraints but ought to imagine herself as a government official bound by public reason and whom others will subsequently hold to account if she deviates too much from those constraints (PL 444-445). She imagines herself in this way in four cases: 1.) the citizen’s advocacy in the public forum; 2.) the citizen qua public office candidate’s advocacy in public campaign; 3.) the citizen as member of an outside group’s advocacy for a public office candidate; 4.) the citizen’s vote on matters relating to the basic structure (PL 215).

In this way, the person when acting as citizen realizes the ideal of public reason indirectly rather than directly, in contrast with the person’s actions qua government official. Additionally, recall that public reason’s bindingness on the person’s action qua citizen is further weakened with the introduction of the proviso: nonpublic reasons from a comprehensive doctrine may be introduced by persons in “political discussion” provided that the person joins thereto “in due course” “properly public reasons” sufficient to support the claims advanced by those nonpublic reasons (PL 462). Moreover, so long as the person’s commitment to a public political conception of justice does not come into question, it may be that the proviso’s “in due course” clause is never invoked by her interlocutors[2]. In this way, Rawls carefully sets apart the norms governing discursive instances for government officials in the public political culture from those for citizens in that same culture, as well as from those in the nonpublic political culture (print, broadcast and digital media) and the background culture (associational and family life).

In the end, the wide view of public reason is considerably more nuanced than either the exclusive view or, for that matter, the inclusive view. Despite some important differences, much in Rawls’s wide view is congruent with Stout’s “unstructured democratic conversation” (DT 179). At the level of the background culture, Rawls and Stout are in agreement that associational life is unconcerned by the ideal of public reason or similar discursive constraints. When it comes to the nonpublic political culture, there is once again no disagreement: print, broadcast and digital media pursue their activities under other norms than that of public reason. Instead, it is at the level of the public political culture and Rawls’s distinct prescriptions for government officials and citizens that the question becomes rather more confused.

[1] Nevertheless, it might prove desirable for the person to abide by the strictures of public reason outside of those discursive instances in which it is morally obligatory. For one such extension of public reason, see the argument in Quong, Liberalism without Perfection, ch. 5.

[2] Weithman, Why Political Liberalism?, xxx.

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