Partisanship and public reason

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In the large body of literature concerning John Rawls’s Political Liberalism
(1993) and his conception of public reason, little attention has been paid to
the implications that the constraints of public reason have for partisans, i.e.
citizens who participate in politics through political parties. This paper
argues that even on the basis of a ‘mild’ understanding of Rawls’s conception
of the constraints of public reason, which takes into account the various
stipulations Rawls provided throughout his later work, when applied to
partisans the constraints of public reason lose none or little of their hindering
force. This seriously undermines the contribution that parties and partisans
can provide to the change and the varieties of public reason that Rawls
himself advocates as a response to social change and, therefore, to political
justification and legitimacy. Parties articulate, coordinate and enhance
societal demands which, without their support, may remain unheard and fail
to change the acceptable terms of public reason and political justification. If
the political speech of partisans is restrained, this potential for change (and,
therefore, its contribution to political legitimacy) is seriously undermined.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-331
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • John Rawls
  • political liberalism
  • public reason
  • duty of civility
  • political justification
  • political parties

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