Avoiding the unavoidable? Judith Shklar's unwilling search for an overlapping consensus

Res Publica 13 (3):231-253 (2007)
No less an authority than John Rawls identified Judith Shklar as a ‘political’ liberal. However, though their respective conceptions of political liberalism are similar in a number of important respects, Shklar emphasizes that her vision differs notably from that of Rawls. In particular, she explicitly eschews Rawls’s focus on establishing and sustaining an overlapping consensus, arguing that his belief in the possibility of securing such a consensus is naïve and, indeed, dangerous insofar as it embodies an obvious disregard for the painful lessons of history and thereby not only allows but invites the occurrence of new cruelties and horrors. Obviously, such an approach would seem to diverge dramatically from that promoted by Rawls and many other political liberals. The purpose of this essay is to analyze Shklar’s arguments and determine the validity of her claims regarding the differences between her conception and that of Rawls and, in so doing, assess the extent to which Shklar’s ‘liberalism of fear’ can be said to represent a meaningfully distinctive model of political liberalism
Keywords overlapping consensus  political liberalism  John Rawls  reasonableness  Judith Shklar  utopian
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DOI 10.1007/s11158-007-9026-y
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