On Jonathan Quong’s Sectarian Political Liberalism

Criminal Law and Philosophy 11 (1):175-194 (2017)
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Jonathan Quong’s book, Liberalism without Perfection, provides an innovative new defense of political liberalism based on an “internal conception” of the goal of public justification. Quong argues that public justification need merely be addressed to persons who affirm liberal political values, allowing people to be coerced without a public justification if they reject liberal values or their priority over comprehensive values. But, by extensively restricting members of the justificatory public to a highly idealized constituency of liberals, Quong’s political liberalism becomes objectionably sectarian. Coercing citizens without a public justification if they hold non-liberal comprehensive views is no different from the sectarian perfectionist view that people can be coerced without a public justification if they hold false comprehensive views. Quong argues that some degree of sectarianism is unavoidable in formulating a conception of political liberalism. While this may be, I maintain that the internal conception is nonetheless excessively sectarian. To demonstrate this, I develop an attractive competitor conception, the convergence conception, which addresses public justification to a diverse, moderately idealized justificatory public. If convergence is a viable interpretation of political liberalism, I argue, then the internal conception is excessively sectarian.



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Kevin Vallier
Bowling Green State University