Individual Liberty and a Prosperous Society ..

There is only one source of fundamental ideas that can serve as afocal point for all reasonable citizens of a liberal society. This isthe society's public political culture. The public politicalculture of a democratic society, Rawls says, “comprises thepolitical institutions of a constitutional regime and the publictraditions of their interpretation (including those of the judiciary),as well as historic texts and documents that are commonknowledge” (PL, 13–14). Rawls looks tofundamental ideas implicit, for example, in the design of thesociety's government, in the constitutional list of individual rights,and in the historic decisions of important courts. These fundamentalideas from the public political culture can be crafted into apolitical conception of justice.

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One reason that reasonable citizens are so tolerant, Rawls says, isthat they accept a certain explanation for the diversity of worldviewsin their society. Reasonable citizens accept the burdens ofjudgment. The deepest questions of religion, philosophy, andmorality are very difficult even for conscientious people to thinkthrough. People will answer these questions in different ways becauseof their own particular life experiences (their upbringing, class,occupation, and so on). Reasonable citizens understand that these deepissues are ones on which people of good will can disagree, and so willbe unwilling to impose their own worldviews on those who have reachedconclusions different than their own.


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This capacity gives hope that the diversity of worldviews in ademocratic society may represent not merely pluralism, butreasonable pluralism. Rawls hopes, that is, that thereligious, moral, and philosophical doctrines that citizens acceptwill themselves endorse toleration and accept the essentials of ademocratic regime. In the religious sphere for example a reasonablepluralism might contain a reasonable Catholicism, a reasonableinterpretation of Islam, a reasonable atheism, and so on. Beingreasonable, none of these doctrines will advocate the use of coercivepolitical power to impose conformity on those with differentbeliefs.


2002) was an American political philosopher in the liberal tradition

Social change can be potent in evoking conflict. Rarely if ever is a proposed social, economic, or political change likely to benefit every component of a social system equally, and so the groups that see themselves as possible losers resist. Mutual animosities and suspicions are aggravated by the inability of both proponents and opponents of any change to predict convincingly what all of the effects will be of making the change or of not making it. Conflict is particularly acute when only a few alternatives exist with no compromise possible—for example, between surrender and war or between candidate A and candidate B. Even though the issues may be complex and people may not be initially very far apart in their perceptions, the need to decide one way or the other can drive people into extreme positions to support their decision as to which alternative is preferable.

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In family groups and small societies, laws are laid down by recognized authorities, such as parents or elders. But almost all groups—from university faculties to local scout troops—have formalized procedures for making rules and arbitrating disputes. On a larger scale, government provides mechanisms for dealing with conflict by making laws and administering them. In a democracy, the political system arbitrates social conflict by means of elections. Candidates for office advertise their intentions to make and modify rules, and people vote for whoever they believe has the best combination of intentions and the best chances of effectively carrying them out. But the need to make complex social trade-offs tends to prevent politicians from accomplishing all of their intentions when in office.

Successful socialization can result in uniformity within a society

There is conflict in all human societies, and all societies have systems for regulating it. Conflict between people or groups often arises from competition for resources, power, and status. Family members compete for attention. Individuals compete for jobs and wealth. Nations compete for territory and prestige. Different interest groups compete for influence and the power to make rules. Often the competition is not for resources but for ideas—one person or group wants to have the ideas or behavior of another group suppressed, punished, or declared illegal.