Public Reason: Vol. 6, No. 1-2, 2014
Why Nothing Is Justified by Justificatory Liberalism
Philip D. Shadd

According to justificatory liberalism (JL) legal coercion is legitimate only when exercised for reasons that all reasonable persons can accept. That is, laws are legitimate only if they satisfy JL’s unanimity condition. This principle entails that if no law meets the unanimity condition, then no law is legitimate. However, given the diversity of persons who meet JL’s own twofold criteria of ‘reasonable’ – commitment to fair cooperation and recognition of reasonable pluralism – no law would be supported by all reasonable persons in JL’s thought experiment, let alone in the real world. I illustrate this diversity of qualified views with an objector inspired by Michael Bakunin, whose revolutionary anarchist views take the state to threaten more than protect equality and pluralism. Therefore, JL would prohibit any use of legal coercion. Nothing would be justified by JL. This result clearly conflicts with commonsense, which recognizes many instances of legal coercion as legitimate even amidst disagreement, and calls into question JL’s plausibility. 

Key words: political legitimacy, justificatory liberalism, public justification, pluralism, unanimity condition, reasonable disagreement. 


Shadd, Philip D. 2014. Why Nothing Is Justified by Justificatory Liberalism. Public Reason 6 (1-2): 3-20.