Political constructivism: Foundations and novel applications

What is “political constructivism”? And to what extent is it of general use to political philosophy? My aim is to suggest that we can extract answers to these questions from John Rawls’s most clearly constructivist work, “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory.” In particular, we can formulate political constructivism as a general approach to political philosophy which is free from at least two limitations that Rawls himself might otherwise seem to place on its potential scope. The first is the special “political” constraints of the later Rawls’s political liberalism. Although “Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory” foreshadows Rawls’s later political turn, it presents a distinct “pre-political” constructivist approach which was at best implicit in the earlier A Theory of Justice. My question is what this distinct approach is. The second limitation, which appears across Rawls’s corpus, is that Rawls never clearly formulates his constructivism independently of the specific social contexts that interest him, the major institutions of modern constitutional democracies and modern international law and practice.[i] And it is not otherwise obvious how his specific accounts should generalize into to other areas of social life. What their general, underlying rationales might be and how if at all they apply is at best highly controversial.[ii] Indeed, according to one plausible view, sometimes suggested by Rawls himself, political constructivism assumes certain “basic” structures, and so applies nowhere else. Unless it could be argued that the remaining areas of social life never raise relevant concerns of social justice—a difficult sort of argument to make—political constructivism becomes of at best of limited (albeit still significant) use to political philosophy.[iii] My more general characterization of political constructivism will allow it to have broader application. As I will explain, the approach has fruitful application in at least two important areas of world politics: the institutions that organize the global economy (especially the system of trade), and international human rights-motivated interventions other than the use of outright coercion and force (e.g..
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