Liberal Neutrality: A Compelling and Radical Principle

Compared to other debates in contemporary political philosophy, the light-to-heat ratio of discussions of neutrality has been somewhat dismal. Although most political philosophers seem to know whether they are for it or against it, there is considerable confusion about what “it” is. To be sure, some of this ambiguity has been noted, and at least partially dealt with, in the literature. Neutrality understood as a constraint on the sorts of reasons that may be advanced to justify state action is regularly distinguished from “consequential neutrality”—that the effects of state policy must somehow be neutral.1 Yet interpretations of neutrality are far more diverse than most analyses recognize.2 Neutrality is sometimes understood as a doctrine about: the intent or aim of legislation or legislators,3 the proper functions of the state,4 the prohibition of the state “taking a stand” on some issues,5 the prohibition of the state enforcing moral character,6 or the requirement that the state take a stance of impartiality.7 Alternatively, neutrality can be understood as a requirement of a theory justice rather than state action.8 There are also differences about whether neutral states (or theories..
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