Political Liberalism and Global Justice


Abstract: This article argues that political liberalism, of the type formulated by John Rawls and Charles Larmore and further developed in Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s capabilities approach, is superior to more comprehensive political views both in domestic and in global affairs. Perfectionist liberalism as advocated by John Stuart Mill and Joseph Raz attempts to erase existing religions and replace them with the religion of utility or autonomy. This is wrong, because in the ethico-religious environment of reasonable disagreement that we inhabit all comprehensive forms of political morality pose a threat to people’s liberty and equality. Only thin and narrow conceptions of value like the ones suggested by Rawls, Larmore, Sen, and Nussbaum can guarantee the respect for diversity that is needed in a pluralistic world. Although Rawls famously failed to extend this idea from domestic to transnational matters, the argument of the article is that not only do the principles of political liberalism apply to global matters, but that the reasons why they apply to global affairs are even more compelling transnationally than they are domestically.