Rawls, reasonableness, and international toleration

Politics, Philosophy and Economics 11 (4):382-414 (2012)
Abstract
Rawls’s account of international toleration in The Law of Peoples has been the subject of vigorous critiques by critics who believe that he unacceptably dilutes the principles of his Law of Peoples in order to accommodate non-liberal societies. One important component in these critiques takes issue specifically with Rawls’s inclusion of certain non-liberal societies (‘decent peoples’) in the constituency of justification for the Law of Peoples. In Rawls’s defence, I argue that the explanation for the inclusion of decent peoples in the constituency of justification is not, as is standardly assumed, that they are the kind of societies that ought to be tolerated in that way on some prior conception of which kinds of societies ought to be tolerated in that way. The real explanation appeals to a methodological principle underlying Rawls’s approach to political justification, according to which liberals owe justification, as a matter of liberal principle, to those who comply with liberal principles for political institutions that apply to them. If such liberal principles can be complied with by agents who nevertheless cannot accept fully liberal justifications for those principles, then liberalism itself requires liberals to seek justifications which they can accept. This approach gives us a new way to view decent peoples: as just such agents, who are therefore owed a justification for the Law of Peoples that they can accept. Decency is thus a concept that is internal to liberal political justification at the international level. Reading Rawls in this way permits a coherent and attractive defence of his strategy of toleration and of his international theory as a whole
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