Political liberalism, basic liberties, and legal paternalism

Southern Journal of Philosophy 48 (2):177-196 (2010)
Abstract
This essay argues that neutral paternalism (NP) is problematic for antiperfectionist liberal theories. Section 2 raises textual evidence that Rawlsian liberalism does not oppose and may even support NP. In section 3, I cast doubt on whether NP should have a place in political liberalism by defending a partially comprehensive conception of the good I call “moral capacity at each moment,” or MCEM, that is inconsistent with NP. I then explain why MCEM is a reasonable conception on Rawls's account of reasonableness. In section 4, I handle concerns that showing NP fails the test of Rawlsian public justification is a nonstarter since NP does not threaten any of our basic liberties. I sketch an argument that, if this is so, the burden is on political liberalism to defend its particular account of basic liberties, since MCEM is reasonable on Rawlsian grounds. More precisely, MCEM is a conception that challenges the way Rawls characterizes basic liberties; that is, his list of basic liberties should be more inclusive by political liberalism's own structural commitments, including Rawls's “liberal principle of legitimacy.” On this revised account, political liberalism can mount a strong opposition to hard legal paternalism
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