Public Reason: Vol. 8, No. 1-2, 2016
Coercion and the Subject Matter of Public Justification
James Boettcher

Some public reason liberals identify coercive law as the subject matter of public justification, while others claim that the justification of coercion plays no role in motivating public justification requirements. Both of these views are mistaken. I argue that the subject matter of public justification is not coercion or coercive law but political decision-making about the basic institutional structure. At the same time, part of what makes a public justification principle necessary in the first place is the inherent coerciveness of a legally organized basic institutional structure. While most public reason liberals seem to presuppose that the meaning of “coercion” is sufficiently obvious so as not to warrant further analysis, my defense of the essay’s main thesis explicitly draws on an account of coercion as a powerful agent’s employment of enforceable constraints to determine the will of another agent.

Key words: coercion, liberalism, public justification, public reason, rule of law.


Boettcher, James. Coercion and the Subject Matter of Public Justification. Public Reason 8 (1-2): 15-30.