Liberal republicanism and the role of civil society

The political liberalism of Rawls and Larmore is presented as uniquely able to solve the problems of modern political theory. In the face of a plurality of reasonable comprehensive conceptions of the good, a legitimate liberal state can legislate solely on the basis of a modular conception of justice affirmed from within each reasonable conception. However, it is argued that this view, while restrictive, has to permit the promotion of its own pre-conditions. This demanding duty of civic restraint requires citizens who have been educated for citizen virtue in the context of associational life in civil society. This challenge to expand liberalism to cover its own preconditions at the level of a moral background culture, has usually been levelled by one kind of republican/communitarian (Charles Taylor) or so-called "ethical liberals". It can be met by the adoption of a liberal republicanism that operates within the constraints of Rawls' political liberalism but nevertheless explains and justifies why such a view must treat traditional republican themes such as active citizenship and the importance of associational life. The solution lies in treating these values as option values, in a sense that is explained.
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