Rawls, Mill, and the Puzzle of Political Liberalism

THE JOURNAL OF POLITICS 75.1 (2013): 124-136

Abstract: This article examines John Rawls’s turn toward a purely political liberalism by comparing and contrasting it with the comprehensive liberalism he imputes to John Stuart Mill. It is argued that Mill and Rawls have similar views about individual autonomy, despite Rawls’s insistence to the contrary. It is contended that Rawls accords a much larger role to the state in enforcing justice than does Mill. Whereas Rawls’s view of justice rests ultimately on state enforcement, Mill sees justice reaching into many institutions, but accords the state a lesser role in this. Mill’s view of justice rests on a view of progress and moral psychology not shared by Rawls. In the service of stability, Rawls demands more agreement from citizens about justice than does Mill, but these demands undermine the stability that Rawls so desires. It is argued that the differences between Rawls and Mill discussed here are not elucidated by the distinction between political and comprehensive liberalisms.